While the plan has been public for some time, many locals are still wondering, “What the heck are they building on First Avenue?”
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) is making fast history with the creation of Tampa Bay Region’s first rapid transit service, which will roll exclusively from downtown St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach.
Coined “SunRunner,” the name refers to the teal-and-orange buses’ sunrise-to-sunset commute up and down First Avenues South and North.
According to PSTA Public Relations Coordinator Stephanie Rank, SunRunner will be open for riders in the summer of 2022.
In 35 minutes, passengers can make it from the downtown areas to St. Pete Beach for the standard $2.25 fare.
There will be nine passenger buses with stops at each station every 15 minutes, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. After 8 p.m. the vehicles will run every 30 minutes until midnight.
“It’s exciting because this is a premium service at the regular cost of a bus ticket,” Rank said.
The $43.93 million SunRunner project is funded partially through a $21.8 million federal grant that PSTA received in 2020; the Florida Department of Transportation’s New Starts Program and Design Grant, and contributions from the City of St. Petersburg and PSTA.
“We’re looking at the SunRunner being a catalyst for the region,” Rank said. “Maybe in the future this could even be something to connect Pinellas with downtown Tampa, but while we’re looking to the future, we’re lucky to be launching this now.”
For now, the 30 stations that will make up the route are still in the construction phase, but will eventually pepper downtown, South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach.
More than half of the cement stations are complete, but with raised platforms and quick ticket purchasing technology, it’s no quick job.
Drivers can look out for “red lanes” in traffic that will serve as the on-the-road home for the service once it starts, compete with priority signaling.
Of course, no major public work in our area is complete without art.
Catherine Woods, owner of C Glass Studio will provide platform station art; vehicle art will be by local artist and owner of MIZE Gallery, Chad Mize.
“I find great pleasure in sharing my vision and leaving my mark on modern culture,” Mize said of his sun-cartoon work that will shine on the side of the buses.
Calling All Riders
The full story isn’t finished yet – the city and PSTA are looking for community input on the project.
“It’s for everyone, and we know tourism is a big industry here in Pinellas County,” said Rank. “There will be tourism use obviously, but this is also for people that live in the beach communities and want to come to a Rays game or a Rowdies match, that sort of thing.”
An online equity forum, paired with community meetings, aims to hear everyone, as concerns regarding accessibility and added traffic patterns persist.
“The SunRunner Rising Equity Forum is an excellent way to partner to build an even brighter, more equitable future for our community,” said Dr. Kanika Tomalin, Deputy Mayor and City Administrator of St. Petersburg. “My thanks to PSTA for leading the way on this important initiative.”
Ask questions and voice concerns on PSTA’s interactive map, psta.mysocialpinpoint.com/sunrunner-rising/map.