A planned bus corridor linking downtown St. Petersburg with St. Pete Beach is getting $21.8 million dollars in federal funding.
President Trump announced the move in a tweet Thursday evening.
.@USDOT is committing $21.8M for the FIRST transit project of this kind in the Tampa Bay region. It will connect St. Petersburg to popular beaches through state-of-the-art transit buses with FREE WiFi. Will be a major help to heavily populated parts of the Great State of Florida!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2020
Learning about the funding by presidential tweet was “surprising” and “nontraditional” for Brad Miller, CEO of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. But he said that didn't make the news any less exciting.
Miller said the money from the federal government was the missing link in the $44 million bus rapid transit project and now he's confident plans can move forward.
"It is such a highly traveled, great transit corridor, connecting all the shops, restaurants, museums and the Rays baseball stadium, straight across about 10.3 miles to the Gulf Beaches," Miller said. “It really will be a catalyst for our tourism economy, our workers who work at the beach or in downtown St. Petersburg will use it."
This would be the first dedicated bus corridor in the Tampa Bay region.
The city of St. Petersburg and the Florida Department of Transportation had already agreed to contribute $22 million to the project, so federal funds make up about half of total spending.
PSTA has had to adjust some plans to address complaints from the beach community, which raised concerns that a BRT line could bring more congestion and traffic hazards to the area.
PSTA decided to reduce the size of buses that will be used, down to a standard 40-foot bus as opposed to ones 60 feet in length.
The agency also agreed to end the route on Gulf Boulevard further north than initially planned. The route now terminates near a public access point at St. Pete Beach rather than the Don Cesar hotel.
In order to make it “rapid,” the buses will get their own lane along First Avenues North and South and then join mixed traffic approaching the beaches.
Riders pay their fare before boarding and can get on at multiple entry points. The buses also have technology that allows them to communicate with traffic signals.
Miller said PSTA has already ordered buses, which should arrive in a year, and built a bus station at St. Pete Beach.
He said the agency hopes to award a construction contract within a month so work can begin this summer.
He expects the route will be ready for passenger use in about 18 months.