The region’s leading economic and business booster has launched a blueprint for transportation improvements during the coming decade in Central Florida to prevent becoming “victims of our success” with growth.
The Orlando Economic Partnership and its Alliance for Regional Transportation have written “the first regional plan of its kind,” said Tim Giuliani, the partnership’s president and CEO. It details seven priorities for exiting from a disabling pattern of inadequate transportation in Central Florida.
There are no specific decisions or proposals recommended in the report. It focuses broadly on making the case that scaling up the quality of the region’s transportation network will improve safety, commerce, access to jobs and quality of life.
The partnership will encourage a surging campaign of lobbying politicians and community leaders and encouraging public support for funding increases and solutions for reinventing regional transportation.
“Our road system is so overused that we lead the nation in pedestrian deaths,” the narrator says in a video produced as a companion to the plan. The Orlando area has “poor east-west connectivity” and public transportation is “unusable for most of the population.”
Public bus and rail service provides minimal job opportunity for riders, which is “indefensible,” and “by the time I-4 Ultimate is finished, it will already be inadequate,” adds the narrator.
The Orlando Economic Partnership represents seven Central Florida counties and is the umbrella, nonprofit group for the Orlando Regional Chamber, the Alliance for Regional Transportation and other organizations. Partnership board members are executives from the area’s utility, health, real estate, legal and theme park industries.
The partnership’s Alliance for Regional Transportation report is available at Orlando.org/art
The report amplifies well-known narratives about the region’s beleaguered road, rail and alternative-travel networks: congested traffic and long commutes; limited growth by the SunRail commuter train and no current actions to expand its capabilities; and a Lynx bus system with too few vehicles and routes.
“Orlando overwhelmingly depends on highways to move people and goods,” the report states. “More than nine out of 10 Central Florida residents commute to work in a motor vehicle, which is higher than most peer regions.”
Meanwhile, ridership on the core LYNX bus system has grown less than 13 percent during the past two decades of surging growth in the population the system serves, according the report.
“Walt Disney World operates more buses than LYNX with a service area 63 times smaller,” the report states.
The report’s priorities are: accelerated growth of public transportation; emerging technologies and designs for Interstate 4; better east-west corridors; strengthening air, space, sea, rail and road gateways; leadership in technologically advanced vehicles; a regional authority for bus and rail; and “bold” investment.
The last two – a regional transit authority and bold investment – have been pressing topics in recent years.
With the deadline uncertain because of the pandemic, the state Department of Transportation is preparing to transfer SunRail’s control and funding obligations to Central Florida governments.
The SunRail system has neither a local home nor a dedicated funding source. Leaders have pondered pairing SunRail and the Lynx public bus system as a new agency but have said little about covering the costs.
Orange County was considering a penny increase in sales tax proposed by Mayor Jerry Demings as a potent funding source for bus, train and other needs.
Meant to be included on the November election ballot, Demings suspended that initiative because of the pandemic without committing to a future ballot date.
“I think it’s incumbent on Orange County – we have to pass that sales tax referendum,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said.
Giuliani said other local sources of cash for transportation must be examined.
“There are other options that should be pursued, but it really doesn’t speak to the scope and scale of what can be done with a sales-tax referendum,” Giuliani said.
The report imagines a wide range of glimpses — far beyond today’s realities — of what the region’s transportation mix could be like in 2030.
Among them, “a designer meets with clients in Orlando, takes SunRail to the airport, and then jumps on passenger rail to Tampa, arriving just in time for a dinner meeting …”
Another describes a hospitality worker who livesin West Orange County “and commutes to a hotel on I-Drive via bus daily … the trip typically takes under 30 minutes each way, enabling the worker to see his children off to school and return home in time to help with homework.”
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