Friday, July 1, 2011

Governor Scott Approves SunRail

Governor Rick Scott's approval of SunRail today demonstrated that political reality, pragmatism, and economic need can prevail over ideological distrust.  It also demonstrated the Governor's confidence in his Secretary of Transportation, Ananth Prasad (who made the announcement), Central Florida's business community (which strongly backed the project), and the fiscally conservative Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.  The strong consensus among citizens and elected leaders of both political parties to build the project--from Volusia County to Osceola County--overwhelmed SunRail opponents. 

Over the next two years, during construction, Central Florida leaders need to ensure that SunRail emobodies the best practices and not ignore valid points raised by SunRail's fiercest critics.  I would suggest the following as preliminary thoughts: 

* CRITICISM #1: SunRail will compete poorly with automobiles since trains will run only every half-hour during rush hour.  Trains every half-hour during rush hour are, in fact, inadequate.  An initial--not long-term goal--should strive for ten minute separation between trains, which may require the purchase of additional locomotives.  The built-in $77 million (30%) contingency in the budget for both Phases I and II could allow for such purchases given that contract prices are locked-in.  The fear of cost overruns expressed by SunRail opponents should prove unfounded.

* CRITICISM #2: The trains won't serve where people want to go, including the airport, convention center, or Disney.  This criticism ignored, or discounted the fact that SunRail is serving central business districts in Winter Park and Kissimmee, Downtown Orlando as well as major employers such as Tuperware, Florida Hospital, and Orlando Regional Medical Center.  However, click HERE for a video from the Orlando Sentinel of Mayor Jacobs' recent comments. I agree strongly with her assessment of a need to connect SunRail to the Orlando International Airport and Orange County Convention Center.   Ideally, I would like to see the ability for Williamsburg residents--many elderly--to access the rail network. 

MetroPlan's vision for a multi-modal Central Florida, with connections to UCF and the theme parks, should remain a long-term goal:
Click to enlarge -- Conceptual Map
CRITICISM #3: People won't travel from car to rail to bus.  The need for convenient multi-modal connectivity will remain heightened, especially while SunRail remains only the spine of a rail network.  A card system similar to SunPass--the integrated charging system for most Florida toll roads and airport parking--should ensure seamless boarding between buses and rail and vice versa.  Lynx will need to schedule buses to connect to the airport, Disney, and other major destinations so they're available as soon as passengers disembark.  GPS-enabled signs, with data available on iPhones, BlackBerries, etc. should inform passengers when the next bus and train will arrive.  Lynx needs to post maps showing where the buses go.  Passengers should also have the opportunity to bring and safely store bicycles onboard.  

Ironically, within hours of Secretary Prasad's SunRail announcement, a severe crash blocked traffic in both directions on I-4 in Polk County--a reminder of how placing all your transportation eggs in one basket is unwise.