TAVARES – T.J. Fish has seen the future of transportation, and he thinks it may start in Tavares.
Although this Lake County city has trains and bus service, it also has two water taxis. Fish thinks that’s impressive, and wishes more people knew about the seaplane base and marina in downtown Tavares .
“Isn’t it interesting that of all the places in the country, we would have that in Tavares?” said Fish, the executive director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization for Lake and Sumter counties. He said Tavares is likely to play an even more important role in Lake County’s future transportation planning for one key reason: SunRail.
“SunRail is a huge deal to us,” he said.
SunRail is a light rail system that will run from Debary to downtown Orlando, and then to Poinciana. It crosses four counties: Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola.
But already other counties are interested in linking to SunRail, including Flagler and now Lake counties. As Fish noted, existing tracks in Tavares could enable the MPO to create what will be called the Orange Blossom Express, a train that would run alongside Orange Blossom Trial/County Road 441 from Lake into Orange counties and bring residents to SunRail.
“We take it very seriously,” Fish said. “The Orange Blossom Express parallels the 441 corridor up into Tavares.”
At the other end of the county, in South Lake County around Four Corners, the MPO is looking at something different: expanded bus service. There is already a Lynx bus route that goes along the U.S. 192 tourism corridor into Lake County on U.S. 27, to the Wal-Mart across the street from the Cagan Crossing complex. It’s a fast-growing area becoming more heavily populated every year.
“Four Corners is one of the most challenging issues I’ve faced,” Fish said. “On U.S. 192, you have another alternatives analysis taking place to look into bus service.”
An alternative analysis is a study of possible transportation options and improvements in fast growing areas.
“Four Corners is the densest location in Lake County,” Fish said. “There is no way for a Lake County resident to get anywhere without (U.S.) 192 and (U.S.) 27. That’s poor planning. We do have a Lynx link out there. We reached out to the Lynx (bus system) and now we have bus service that comes all the way to the Wal-Mart in Four Corners.”
The only other bus system, the Lakes Express, “only runs in northern Lake County,” he added, dividing the two parts of this geographically large county.
“Lake County is literally within a few square miles of being the size of Rhode Island,” Fish said.
For decades a rural, agricultural area, South Lake County – including Four Corners, Clermont, Groveland and Montverde – has grown considerably, as more and more workers from Orlando brave the commute out there, transforming this section of the county into a bedroom community for new residential developments. As Fish noted, that’s created a tale of two counties – one with a population in the north around Tavares, Leesburg and Mount Dora, and the other clustered around Four Corners.
Fish said the MPO is hoping that bus service provides better transportation options in the south end, while SunRail opens new doors in the north.
He noted that Gov. Rick Scott approved SunRail in July only after heavily lobbying from business groups who claimed it had the potential to revitalize Central Florida’s economy.
“Even though Rick Scott didn’t approve of this thing, he was getting visits from Tupperware and the University of Central Florida and Orlando International Airport saying ‘This is our future,’ “ Fish said.
Hector Lizasuain, Osceola County’s West 192 coordinator, noted that the bus system in Four Corners is so popular that it got spared tough budget cuts.
“Our Lynx route is heavily used, and that’s the reason it wasn’t cut back,” he said.
Lizasuain also predicted that improved bus and transportation service there would help bring more businesses to Four Corners.
“Over the next five to ten years, you’re going to see a lot of changes out there,” he said.
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