PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Buses driving on the interstate in Pinellas County now have a quicker way of getting around traffic.
You may have already noticed buses driving on the shoulder on I-275, but those buses were just practicing. A pilot program officially kicks off in Pinellas County on Monday. Buses can now drive on the shoulders along I-275 from 5th Avenue N. to Gandy Boulevard in St. Petersburg, which will benefit those on PSTA's 100x route.
It's the first "Bus-on-Shoulder" program on an interstate in the entire state of Florida, hoping to make public transit quicker and more attractive to riders.
The buses will be specially wrapped, and will only be allowed to use the shoulder when traffic is going 35 miles an hour or under. If there is an accident on the shoulder, the bus will then merge into normal traffic, then return to the shoulder once it's clear. It's part of the Bus-on-Shoulder pilot program aimed at improving transit travel times between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
The Florida Department of Transportation has widened the shoulders on northbound and southbound I-275. Special lights have also been installed at the 38th Avenue and 54th Avenue on-ramps, and come Monday, those signs will light up when a bus is approaching the shoulder. The "Bus on Shoulder Signal" (BOSS), will turn red, stopping oncoming ramp traffic for a few seconds.
“We always thought using our shoulders for something other than the shoulder, because it’s not used for emergency services and breakdowns all the time,” said David Gwynn, District Secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).
FDOT and TBARTA fronted the $4.7 million to get the project up and running.
“It’s a great use of the existing road we have to make the transit service more reliable and more people will ride it,” said Brad Miller, CEO of Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
We've all been stuck in rush hour traffic on I-275 as people head to and from work.
“Sometimes it takes a half-hour to get to Tampa, sometimes it takes an hour and a half to get to Tampa,” said Miller.
So the hope for the "Bus-on-Shoulder" project is that it will take about the same amount of time to get from St. Pete to Tampa, and visa versa, every day.
“If you’re gonna be stuck in the same traffic sitting on a bus as in your car, you say, ‘well, I’ll just take my car.’ So that’s our hope is people will say, ‘hey, that bus going by me every day seems like it’s getting where it wants to go quicker. Maybe I’ll try it,’” said Gwynn.
Officials say it's coming to Pinellas County first, because it's the most densely populated county in the state. But plans for expansion are already top of mind.
“At some point we can’t widen the roads anymore, and at that point you have to really rely on other sources of mobility,” said Gwynn.
Gwynn says if it's as successful as he thinks it will be, they may look at implementing the program in Hillsborough County, and even up into Pasco County.
And PSTA CEO Brad Miller believes this may be a good option for US-19, and other roadways with a wide shoulder.
The program begins on Monday, June 7th, and will run 5 days a week.
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority hopes the service can be used to set an example for other interstates across Florida.