Thanks to federal money coming to St. Johns County through the stimulus American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and appropriations secured by United States Representative John L. Mica (FL – 7th District), St. Johns County is able to construct a much needed public transit facility to be used by the Sunshine Bus Company according to an announcement received by Historic City News today.
Congressman Mica announced last month that $1.47 million in federal funds has been awarded for the public transit facility to be used by the St. Johns County Council on Aging to improve public transportation within the County, as well as paratransit or door-to-door services. This funding is from a bill that had been stalled in Congress since October and is separate from the ARRA stimulus package. Additionally, the County is receiving $948,514 in ARRA stimulus funds for the public transit facility. By combining those two awards with ongoing federal grants, the new transit facility can be built in its entirety.
The St. Johns County Council on Aging’s Transportation Department, which operates the Sunshine Bus Company, provides public transportation for St. Johns County residents of all ages. Currently the Sunshine Bus Company works from two rented store fronts on Anastasia Island, providing only 2,400 square feet of space and no secure parking for more than forty public transit vehicles. The island location also makes the operations susceptible to flooding and damage in the event of a major storm, when public transportation is needed most to aid in evacuation efforts.
Due to those challenges, property has been identified on Old Moultrie Road just south of Lewis Point Road for a new headquarters. However, a lack of funding meant the County would need to build the project in phases and it would be several years before the facility would be complete. The newly indentified federal funds now ensure the approximately $2.5 million project can be completed within 18 months and positively impact public transportation in St. Johns County.
District 4 County Commissioner Phil Mays met several times with Congressman Mica over the past few months and is pleased with the Fiscal Year 2009 federal appropriation. “Having access to reliable public transportation is crucial to the future success of this community,” Mays said. “We are grateful to Congressman Mica for his support and the appropriation of these funds, because otherwise we would not have been able to construct this much needed facility for the Sunshine Bus Company.”
Additionally, Cathy Brown, Executive Director of the St. Johns County Council on Aging, frequently advocates in Washington on behalf of the Council on Aging and is thrilled with the new transit facility. “This has been a long time coming and we appreciate Congressman Mica holding this as a priority. Our transit partnership with the County began in 1983 and we are honored to be able to provide mobility options for the people of St. Johns County.”
St. Johns County is in the initial phases of engineering, designing and permitting the new facility and anticipates beginning construction by the fall of this year. The new headquarters is expected to be approximately 6,000 square feet and allow more efficient operations, including aspects such as administration, customer service, maintenance and wash areas, fueling stations, dispatch, storage and secure paved parking.
The Sunshine Bus Company has provided public transportation in St. Johns County since 2000 with assistance from its funding partners: St. Johns County, Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Florida Department of Transportation and federal grants. Having grown and expanded during the past nine years, the Sunshine Bus Company now offers seven routes, including a new route to the rural Hastings area and a connection at the Avenues Mall in Jacksonville. The bus system has a ridership of over 15,000 a month, and bus fares are a reasonable $1, with a discount rate of $.50 for seniors, students or the disabled. Additionally, the Council on Aging provides 400-500 life-sustaining paratransit trips each day, primarily for dialysis, medical appointments and shopping needs. The Council on Aging and Sunshine Bus Company have received many state and national awards, including the prestigious 2008 Community Transportation System of the Year as recognized by the Community Transportation Association of America.