With additional federal funding secured, the bus rapid transit system known as the SunRunner had its official groundbreaking under stormy skies Monday morning.
“This is truly what they call a bipartisan project,” said Rep. Charlie Crist, who presented a $21.8 million check from the Federal Transportation Administration to the PSTA to help fund the SunRunner. “Everybody is working together and coming together in our community to do what’s right.”
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The SunRunner, the first rapid transit of its kind in the Tampa Bay area, will act as a train of sorts, with raised platforms that will allow people in wheelchairs, families with strollers and bike riders to easily hop on and off. In total, the 10.3 mile route stretching from downtown St. Petersburg to the beaches will have 16 stops. The buses will run every 15 minutes, taking passengers from downtown to the beach or vice versa in under 35 minutes. Local leaders see the SunRunner as one part of a regional system that will eventually link Pinellas County with Hillsborough and Pasco Counties.
“It is absolutely thrilling to be moving forward with our SunRunner system,” said city council member Gina Driscoll, who serves on the PSTA executive committee. “This is absolutely a building block for economic development. You can’t talk about bringing businesses to a region without having a strong transit system.”
PSTA has ordered nine new WiFi-enabled buses to serve the route, which are slated to arrive in 2021. The goal completion date is February 2022. In addition to an enhanced rider experience, the rapid transit project will also include a public art component. The Art in Transit project will feature glass work by local artist Catherine Woods at bus shelters throughout St. Pete. Each shelter’s design will reflect the unique characteristics of the neighborhoods and businesses districts in which they’re located, and will be functionally integrated into the physical design of each station.
In addition to providing a connection from downtown to the beaches, Driscoll also envisions the SunRunner playing a key role in the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site.
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“Having SunRunner come through here is going to be a major factor in what happens on this site and what happens in the future of St. Petersburg,” she said. “Today, what we’re celebrating is the future of our region.”