ORLANDO – So much attention has been focused on the death of a high speed train from Orlando to Tampa that it’s helped obscure a lengthy, and wide-ranging, series of transportation projects being planned across Central Florida, from a local commuter rail line to bike paths to highway widenings and extensions.
Metroplan Orlando, the metropolitan planning organization for Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, held a public hearing on Wednesday to review the Prioritized Project List for its series of Transportation Improvement projects, which the agency needs to sign off on in order to secure the necessary state and federal funding.
The list will be submitted to the Florida Department of Transportation in August in anticipation of the state of the 2012 session of the Florida Legislature. Some of the projects still need funding, said Keith Caskey, a member of the Metroplan staff.
“FDOT has asked us to get our prioritized list approved and sent to them by August,” he told the members of the Metroplan board of directors, which met at the agency’s office on Robinson Street. “Next month I’ll be coming back with a more detailed prioritized list.”
The list is already both detailed and extensive. Metroplan’s Transportation Improvement Program identifies all federal and state-funded transportation projects in the three county region, locally funded projects, and funding available this year for highway, bicycle, transit and aviation projects.
Much of the region’s focus in the past year has been on a proposed high speed bullet train that would have run from Orlando to Tampa and then to Miami. Running along the median of Interstate 4, the train was projected to have been able to take passengers from Tampa to Orlando International Airport in less than an hour. There was also excitement among the project’s supporters because it would have been partly funded through federal stimulus money awarded to the state in 2009 by the Obama administration.
Earlier this year, though, Gov. Rick Scott rejected the federal funds and killed the project, saying he has doubts about the ridership numbers, and felt the state would be saddled with long term maintenance costs.
Although that project is not likely to get revived anytime soon, the list detailed by Caskey clearly demonstrates that Metroplan wasn’t relying on the bullet train as the only transportation improvement project in this region.
National highway projects being planned in this region include improvements to the interchange at Interstate 4 and State Road 46 and a configuration of I-4 south of the Beachline Expressway to the Orange/Seminole County line, while local projects in the works include the six-laning of U.S. 192 in the St. Cloud area, the four laning of State Road 15 to Conway Road in Orlando, and the widening of U.S. 17/92 from Poinciana Boulevard to south of Ham Brown Road in Osceola County.
Metroplan is also looking into the retiming of traffic signals in the three county region, and creating more bike paths and pedestrian walkways or making improvements to existing ones like Riverwalk in Sanford, the Shingle Creek Trail in Orange and Osceola counties, and the Cady Way Trail, an urban trail and favorite of Orlando area bikers, joggers, and skaters that runs from the Fashion Square Mall in Orlando to Cady Way Park in Winter Park.
Caskey said major transit projects in the region include SunRail, a commuter rail line that would run from Volusia County to downtown Orlando, and then into Osceola County, although this project stills needs the governor’s support; an expansion of downtown Orlando’s bus transit system; and plans to establish a light rail system across the region.
“These are major projects of last year’s prioritized list,” Caskey said. “Once adopted by the board, it will be sent on to FDOT.”
Metroplan will also host a public hearing on the Transportation Improvement Program on Monday, June 27 at 6 p.m. in the Metroplan board room. Caskey said the board’s long term visions needs to encompass more than simply expanding local highways.
“We can’t keep adding lanes to roads,” he said. “We need to look to more intermodal-type improvements.”
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs agreed, saying “I do think we need to start thinking about more than roads,” although she added that with tax revenues down and budgets very tight, which projects deserve funding would be a critical issue going forward.
“I’d like a little more information before I’m comfortable about voting on it,” Jacobs said of the TIP.
Harry Barley, Metroplan’s executive director, promised he could do that.
“Certainly, we can provide you with that information,” Barley said.
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