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Transportation

St. Petersburg Bus Project Receives Additional Federal Funding

a bright blue bus sits behind a strange mound of dirt oddly placed in a parking lot
Preston Rudie
/
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority
Last August, local transportation officials broke ground on a bus stop at Tropicana Field that will serve SunRunner passengers. The rapid transit line will connect downtown St. Petersburg with nearby beaches.

Florida received about $35 million to advance transportation projects, $3.3 million of which went to St. Petersburg’s SunRunner Rapid Transit Bus.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced last week that $250 million in federal funding has been allocated across the country as part of the American Rescue Plan.

Florida received just over $35 million to advance transit projects in St. Petersburg, Miami, and Jacksonville. Of that money, St. Petersburg received $3.3 million for its SunRunner bus line.

“The American Rescue Plan did include funding for rapid transit projects around the country that are under construction, just like ours here, the SunRunner, to make sure those projects get across the finish line,” said Brad Miller, CEO of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA).

Construction on the transit line began last August. The 10.3-mile route will connect downtown St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach through the Central Avenue corridor.

Buses will run every 15 minutes during the day, and 30 minutes in the evening, in their own dedicated lanes with fewer stops and quicker boarding.

“What rapid transit can do is provide that really low premium transportation option to get people on very quickly from downtown St. Petersburg to the number one beaches in the country,” Miller said. “We've modeled it and we’re expecting very high ridership.”

According to early construction updates, PSTA projects a ridership of at least 4,000 people per day. Officials expect riders to be a combination of locals, tourists, and workers traveling to and from the beach.

“There are lots of workers who work out on the beach at those hotels that don't get a parking space. And so they need a transportation option like this,” Miller said.

two men hold a huge check in front of a bright blue bus
Preston Rudie
Rep. Charlie Crist from Florida's 13th congressional district (left) and Brad Miller, CEO of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, (right) hold a $21.8 million check from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the SunRunner Rapid Transit Bus project.

In total, the project cost $44 million. Half of that was paid for with federal funds, which former President Donald Trump allocated in May 2020. The rest was paid by the Florida Department of Transportation, the PSTA, and the city of St. Petersburg.

The latest $3.3 million American Rescue Plan allocation will supplement that funding and enable the transit authority to purchase eco-friendly vehicles.

“It will allow us to take some of the money that we were planning on investing into SunRider and instead invest into more low-emission, battery-electric buses,” Miller said. “We have a growing fleet of battery-powered, zero-emission buses and we want to keep doing that. So this is like a double reward.”

Similar projects are happening across the state. In Miami, a 20-mile rapid bus transit line will operate along an existing busway from the Dadeland South Metrorail station to SW 344th Street in Florida City.

In Jacksonville, a 12.9-mile transit line will run from the Convention Center to the Orange Park Mall in Clay County, via Florida State College-Jacksonville.

The St. Petersburg transit line is scheduled to start running in early 2022. Miller said it will be a strong first step toward a more efficiently connected region.

“We're very much hoping that this will be a catalyst for many other lines, like a future rapid bus line between St. Petersburg and Tampa across the Howard Frankland (Bridge),” Miller said. “We think this can be sort of the first of what we think will be a whole network across Tampa Bay.”

The additional funding comes as federal lawmakers place a greater emphasis on national infrastructure.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a $547 billion package Thursday aimed at fixing the nation’s roads and transit systems while putting a bigger focus on the environment. It includes $109 billion for transit and $95 billion for rail.

The final vote was 38-26, with two Republicans joining Democrats to support the bill. The committee’s approval sends the package to the House floor, with a vote planned for the week of June 28.

“Public transportation is one of many public services we have that is a partnership. It's like a three-legged stool: the federal government is one leg, the state government is another leg, and then the local investment is the third leg,” Miller said.

“Unlike many other services, say fire, police, or libraries, which might be just state or local funding, public transportation everywhere in the United States really needs that strong federal partner and we are finally seeing that in a great way. We definitely are grateful for a strong federal partner.”

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