Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Overwhelming Community Support for SunRail Greets Secretary Prasad

Florida's Secretary of Transportation, Ananth Prasad, conducted a day-long tour, from Daytona Beach to Osceola County to gauge community sentiment towards SunRail, Central Florida's decade-long planned commuter rail line.

Overwhelming community support for SunRail greeted him at the Maitland and Orange County Commission hearings I attended, and reportedly at the other hearings as well.

At the Maitland meeting, one SunRail opponent made the mistake of asking audience members to stand if they'd take the train instead of their cars. Virtually the entire audience stood. Many in the overflow crowd already standing raised their hands.

At the Orange County hearing, Mayor Teresa Jacobs similarly asked opponents and then supporters to stand. Again, supporters vastly outnumbered opponents.

At both hearings, pro-SunRail speakers outnumbered opponents, though each side received equal time. 

One naysayer accused attendees of comprising of "special interests."  The special interests included a severely disabled woman dependent on transit, a young nursing student who intends to reside in a city with rail transit, and, at the Maitland hearing, my Rollins Land Use Law student, Logan Laughlin, who said he was suffering from high blood pressure from driving in congestion.  His comments brought a smile to Secretary Prasad.

MetroPlan's Harry Barley warned that, if Central Florida violates Clean Air standards, Federal funding for road construction will grind to a halt. SunRail, he said, is a step towards cleaner air and expressed concern over rising levels of asthma among children.  He urged the Secretary to uphold MetroPlan's regional vision.

After the hearing, Mayor Jacobs escorted Secretary Prasad to the Commissioner's conference room, where I sat with an overflow crowd, 90 percent of whom, again, supported SunRail.  I had a brief moment to present the following chart to the Secretary, demonstrating that we can't build our way out of congestion.

(The numbers on the left side of the graph are in the millions--you can add "000" to get the reported figures).  Increasing vehicle miles traveled on Metro Orlando's highways since 1992 have far exceeded increases in highway capacity. I told the Secretary we need cost-effective ways to reduce the gap.  (In fact, SunRail provides an opportunity to obtain the capacity of one lane of I-4 at a fraction of the cost of road construction.)  I told the Secretary that I hoped he would recommend to the Governor that we proceed. 

If I were the Secretary, I would advise the Governor that he faces acute political risk if he tries to scuttle SunRail.