ST. PETERSBURG — A planned transit line connecting downtown St. Petersburg and the beach now has a name: the SunRunner.
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority officials unveiled the name, logo and bus design Wednesday morning. Yellows, blues and orange will be splashed across the buses, bus stops and branding for the new route, which is expected to begin late next year or early 2022.
People in St. Petersburg might recognize “MR SUN” — a character dating to a 1940s promotional campaign now featured in a mural downtown — beaming down from the side of the bus.
It’s a bright, cheerful branding strategy for a project that has faced 10 years of discussion, pushback from residents and two local governments, and questions about whether it would ever get rolling.
Much of that uncertainty disappeared when President Donald Trump announced in a May tweet that a federal grant would cover half the cost of the $44 million project. The rest of the money comes from the Florida Department of Transportation, the county transit authority and the city of St. Petersburg. The project will be the first of its kind in Tampa Bay.
“It’s been a long, drawn out process when we’re talking about a project this large with this kind of money,” transit authority chairman Joseph Barkley said. “But now we have the funding in place, we’ve got the contracts and the different spots located for stops. ...
“We’ve got a very exciting design and the name is perfect. It’s just all these exciting things that we’ve been waiting for.”
Those behind the project wanted to the bus line to convey speed, reliability, and playfulness. Transit authority marketing director Whitney Fox said they wanted to avoid weighing down the name with transportation jargon like bus rapid transit — a term for a route that usually has its own dedicated lane, fewer stops and quicker boarding.
Instead, Fox hopes the SunRunner will make people think of Olympic athlete Usain Bolt, Lassie the dog of television fame or Phoebe Buffay from Friends — fast, dependable and maybe a little quirky.
“When people see it go by, it could put a smile on their face,” Fox said. “We wanted to really tap into the culture of the area, and we knew we had to incorporate the sun somehow.”
The sun seemed like a natural symbol for ride linking “The Sunshine City” of St. Petersburg with St. Pete Beach, which Charlie Crist nicknamed the “Sunset Capital of Florida” in one of his last official duties as governor in 2011.
And the name is one that Fox and Barkley hope to see adapted if bus rapid transit lines are approved in other parts of Tampa Bay. Maybe the SkyRunner connecting to Tampa International Airport or the BayRunner linking Tampa.
“This could be the first of a whole series of projects that are are going to connect the whole Tampa Bay region,” Barkley said.
The SunRunner also incorporates work from local artists, something Fox said was important in connecting with the identity of the area the bus line serves.
St. Petersburg artist Chad Mize adapted his MR SUN mural for the bus design and Catherine Woods is designing art for 16 stations planned along the 10-mile route.
“We really want it it to be something that the local residents are proud to say, ‘This represents our neighborhood and area,‘” Fox said.
The St. Petersburg City Council, which voted last year to spend $750,000 to pay for glass artwork at the stations, will see a presentation about design of the stations at Thursday’s council meeting.
The stations will come in different styles, depending on the stop. Some will have only a tall totem marking the stop, while larger ones will have a covered waiting area, artistic glass panels and seating, Fox said.
Each station will have elevated platforms for level boarding to assisted older people, those in wheelchairs and parents with strollers. Many stations will also have security cameras and video screens sharing real time departure information, Fox said.
The route will start in downtown St. Petersburg and run along First Avenues North and South. Buses will turn onto Pasadena Avenue South and then travel down Gulf Boulevard.
Pinellas transit officials said the SunRunner corridor will use bus and turn-only lanes along 65 percent of the route, or 6.75 miles.
These lanes, which will be painted red, can still be used by cars turning into a business, a side street or driveway. But in order to give the buses their own route, officials will have to convert one lane along First Avenues North and South into dedicated east-west transit and turn lanes. That means those stretches would be reduced to two lanes for regular through traffic.
There will be 16 stops and the buses will run in 15-minute intervals.
Construction has already begun on the route, including a terminal recently completed on St. Pete Beach, Miller said. The agency has also placed an order for new buses.
The project was floated more than a decade ago and gained traction in 2015. County officials have called it one of the most important transportation initiatives in the region.
It has also faced strong community backlash and undergone modifications as planners sought to address concerns of officials and residents in St. Pete Beach. Most recently, the Pinellas transit authority said it would use standard 40-foot buses instead of 60-foot buses and would end the route at 45th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard instead of extending it to The Don Cesar hotel.
The St. Pete Beach City Commission voted against spending any money on the project. The commission did approve a resolution last summer, but just barely, saying the project could come into their city.
“We’re going to try to do everything we can to help not only St. Petersburg,,” Barkley said, “but the other cities along the way to get more business into their towns, reduce traffic and generally make the area a destination.”