Orlando, Fla. — The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) celebrated the opening of the first phase of the SunRail commuter rail line, which will significantly expand transit options and connect thousands of residents to jobs and other economic opportunities throughout Central Florida.

FTA Region IV Regional Administrator Yvette Taylor was joined by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) representatives and other local officials at an opening event at Orange County’s Sand Lake Road Station.

“Projects like Central Florida’s new SunRail commuter system not only create jobs as they’re built, but help connect millions of area residents with better opportunities through improved access to work and school,” said Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We will continue supporting important projects like this that show the difference we can make if we invest in America and commit to the future.”

The first phase of the 32-mile commuter rail line will connect residents of Volusia, Seminole and Orange Counties with downtown Orlando, providing easy access to thousands of jobs in the city’s downtown business district, many within walking distance of the line’s 12 new rail stations. The line also will link to Amtrak and LYNX bus service in downtown Orlando, improving transfers to LYMMO (the free bus rapid transit system that recently expanded service), and to other buses that serve greater Orlando.

“We applaud Central Florida’s vision and support for a safe, efficient and connected transportation network that gives more than two million residents a convenient and reliable alternative to traffic congestion on Interstate-4,” said FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan. “SunRail will connect residents from DeBary to Sand Lake Road with the jobs and services they need, while removing barriers to success throughout the region.”

Construction of the rail line has created thousands of jobs, according to FDOT. The project has also spurred a $250 million public-private investment in a 176-acre Health Village at Florida Hospital where a new SunRail station will enable thousands of medical researchers, hospital employees, patients and their families to take transit to work or obtain medical care. Across the entire rail line, more than two dozen retail, office, government, and residential development projects within a 10-minute walk of new SunRail stations are planned or under way – representing about $1.6 billion in public and private investments altogether.

The FTA provided $178.6 million toward construction of the initial segment through its Capital Investment (New Starts) Grant Program. The line is considered the first phase of what is expected to be a 61-mile commuter rail line. In March 2014, FTA announced that President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget includes a recommendation to provide additional funding to extend the line 17.2 miles south into Osceola County.