During an Aug. 27 open house on its proposed bus rapid-transit (BRT) system, SCAT General Manager Anthony Beckford said the estimated cost for the high-speed bus line has risen from $84 million to about $100 million.
The cost includes the purchase of eight, special hybrid buses, which look like trains and have features such as wireless internet, and the purchase of the rail corridor from University Parkway to 10th Street.
The BRT is designed to offer quicker travel times on its route from the University of South Florida campus to Westfield Southgate Mall.
The open house was intended to gather input from the public about the entire project, but most in attendance seemed to focus on where the route took the buses.
Laurel Park residents have been complaining about the section of the BRT route that runs through their neighborhood on Osprey Avenue. Members of the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association have asked Beckford to show them a study that he says shows Osprey Avenue is the best route for the BRT.
“I have not seen any data that would explain in any analytical way that it’s the best route,” said Kate Lowman, a Laurel Park Neighborhood Association board member. “For the people who live on Osprey, the issue is noise, volume of traffic and dirt.”
From the start of the discussions about the BRT, SCAT officials have talked about how it will draw high-density development along the route.
“I’m concerned about development pressure on Laurel Park,” Lowman said. “We’re zoned for nine units per acre. It makes sense to put (the BRT) in higher-density areas.”
Lowman said she thinks the high-speed bus service is a good idea, but believes Orange Avenue or U.S. 301, which are both zoned for 25 units per acre, would be better alternatives for traveling between Ringling Boulevard and Mound Street, because they are not residential like her neighborhood.
Beckford is considering Orange Avenue as an alternative, and county commissioners, who have the final say on the project, may ask SCAT to use that alternate route.
Beckford also said that the increasing complaints may end up defeating the BRT project altogether.
“It doesn’t take many people to kill a project,” he said.