Since 2014, the region has been discussing options for expanding intercity transportation to airports and passenger rail facilities in Sacramento and the Bay Area. The concept was initiated to complement interregional travel options and to provide better connections to state, national, and international destinations.
In July 2015, SRTA was successful in obtaining a $30,000 mini-grant through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Section 5311(f) Intercity Bus Program to investigate market demand and operational feasibility of the service. This effort was completed during the winter of 2016/17. Express bus service from Redding to downtown Sacramento along the I-5 corridor is recommended in the study, with feeder routes from the rural counties in the North State. The final report provides an inventory of existing services along the corridor; a market demand assessment; a cursory service design; and a list of next steps required for implementation. Early data and findings from the study were used in a Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) grant application for $19.5 million, submitted in April 2016 and not awarded funding. This study, called the Shasta Intercity Transportation to Sacramento and Bay Area Feasibility Study and Action Plan, was accepted by the board in December 2016.
In April 2017, SRTA was successful in obtaining $223,203 through the Caltrans Sustainable Transportation Planning Grant Program to provide details for an intercity bus network featuring backbone service on I-5 between Redding and Sacramento with feeder service from surrounding rural counties. In addition to strengthening relationships with state, rail, and regional partners, the business plan quantified operating and capital costs needed to prepare a second Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) grant application, submitted in January 2018. The North State Intercity Bus System Business Plan was approved by the board in June 2018.
In April 2018, SRTA was awarded over $8.6 million in capital funding through the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) for a new all electric intercity bus service between Redding and Sacramento, including a valley feeder for connections between Chico, Corning, Willows, and the Salmon Runner stop on I-5 in Orland. When the service is operating at full frequency, as described in the North State Intercity Bus System Business Plan, the Salmon Runner will offer four inter-connected round trips per day. The bus service will be designed as a green, affordable transportation option with fares structured so that the highest fare is $20 and the lowest, along the valley feeder, is $5. The service schedule will be coordinated with local transit system connections at stops on the route, such as in Redding and Orland, as well as passenger rail and other intercity bus connections in Sacramento.
In 2020, SRTA was awarded $600,000 in operations assistance funding through the FTA Section 5311(f) Intercity Bus Program for the implementation of both the Salmon Runner and Valley Feeder services that form the foundation of the North State Intercity Bus System. In April 2021, SRTA applied for continued operations assistance funding through the 5311(f) program to support the Salmon Runner service on I-5, but unfortunately SRTA was not awarded this grant funding.
Due to the ongoing development of zero-emission motor coach buses with the technology required to serve the 175-mile range between Redding and Sacramento, the board approved releasing a request for proposals to begin operations on the Salmon Runner I-5 route using traditionally-fueled motor coaches. This phase of the Salmon Runner will be key in order to establish the daytime intercity public transportation connections between the North State region and Greater Sacramento. Initial service is expected to operate between Redding and Sacramento with stops in Red Bluff, Orland, and Terminals A and B at Sacramento International Airport.
SRTA held a public workshop on April 29, 2021 to discuss project updates and receive input from members of the community. A recording of the event can be viewed on SRTA's YouTube channel here.