ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — A new pilot program from the Florida Department of Transportation and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will change up how buses in St. Petersburg handle highways.

“This is the first interstate highway bus-on-shoulder project in Florida and an outstanding collaboration with PSTA to enhance safety and mobility for our region,” District Seven Secretary David Gwynn said.

While it’s the first proposed project of its type in Florida, there are other BOS systems in place in Seattle, Vancouver, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., to name a few.

The PSTA pilot program will let buses drive on the shoulders of I-275 from 5th Avenue to Gandy Boulevard in St. Pete. The buses from the project will be “specially wrapped.”

The bus-on-shoulder project was first pitched in 2019 and is now set to start in June. The pitch followed a study conducted by the PSTA from 2015 to 2018, showing results would increase average transit speeds and improve route performance.

A finalized version for construction was approved on Feb. 27, 2021 by FDOT.

“This new service will enhance reliable transit travel times between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties on PSTA’s Route 100x,” FDOT said in a release.

Basically, an FDOT construction project totaling $4.7 million, according to FDOT documents, will widen and repave the shoulders on I-275 to harden them and add new signs, markings and traffic signals.

An FDOT release says this will allow the buses to maintain travel time reliability.

“We are excited to partner in this new transit project with the Department of Transportation,” said Brad Miller, PSTA’s chief executive officer. “We are committed to providing consistent, dependable and safe service for our riders, and this is another innovative way to help ensure we meet that standard even during occasional periods when traffic is heavy on the interstate.”

Here’s how it’ll work

If travel speeds drop below 35 mph on I-275, buses will be able to get on the shoulder in the authorized locations to avoid the slower traffic on the interstate, and be able to drive at a max speed of 35 mph on the shoulder, but never higher than 15 mph over the general traffic, according to FDOT.

Special traffic signals have already been installed at the on-ramps for 38th Avenue and 54th Avenue for northbound and southbound directions.

The signals are red light only and will turn red when a bus approaches from the shoulder, stopping oncoming ramp traffic for a few seconds to let the bus on. Then, the signal will turn off and normal traffic will resume.

Come June, you’ll start seeing the new project in full swing as FDOT and PSTA test out the changes to traffic and travel in St. Pete.

Read the full release from FDOT below:

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