POINCIANA — Jany Perez spends a lot of time in her car – but not because her job requires her to do plenty of traveling.
What she’s really facing is something else entirely: the Poinciana to Orlando commute.
“I have been living in Poinciana for about 10 years,” said Perez, 21. “The commute is unbearable. It’s about an hour and half to get to the Orlando area.”
A recent graduate of Poinciana’s New Dimension High School, Valencia Community College and the University of Central Florida, Perez now works at a law firm in downtown Orlando. On Tuesday, she attended a workshop on the SunRail project in Kissimmee to urge Gov. Rick Scott to approve the project. The governor had sent the state’s transportation secretary, Ananth Prasad, to Central Florida to host a series of public workshops on the rail line, taking testimony from supporters and critics alike.
Critics have warned about the high cost of this project — $1.28 billion to construct the 61-mile rail line from Volusia County to downtown Orlando, and then to Osceola County, ending at the Poinciana Industrial park. The federal government will finance half of the construction, Florida will pay another 25 percent, and taxpayers cover the remaining 25 percent. After year seven of operation, local governments will need to cover the maintenance costs of running the line.
Prasad has cautioned local counties that if the ridership for SunRail isn’t strong, it could impact funding for other local projects.
Robert Duncan of Orlando testified against SunRail on Tuesday at Orlando City Hall, saying very few motorists would get out of their cars to ride this rail line.
“We’re going to take off 2,000 cars a day on I-4,” he said. “Whoop-de-doo.”
When Perez testified in Kissimmee, though, she had a different message entirely.
Perez lived at Bridgewater Court in Poinciana, on the Osceola County side, and drives from Poinciana Boulevard to State Road 535, where she picks up an exit for Interstate 4. Then it’s straight into Orlando – assuming she doesn’t hit morning rush hour traffic, which she usually does.
“I’ve been completing my internships in downtown Orlando, and I’ve had to drive every single day to downtown Orlando,” she said. “It’s three hours of the day that I’m stuck in traffic. It’s frustrating and it’s expensive sitting in a car three hours a day.”
Her job starts at 8:30 a.m., so she has to leave extra early to be sure she can get there on time.
“When school is in session, oh my god, forget it,” she said. “All the (school) buses on Poinciana Boulevard, it’s terrible.”
Perez understands the arguments that critics making, that not enough commuters will get out of their cars to ride a train – and she doesn’t necessarily disagree with them.
“I think initially they might be right,” she said. “Maybe the first couple of years, not enough people will be giving it a chance.
“But eventually people will come around years later, I feel,” she added. “Poinciana is going to keep growing, so you’re going to have more and more cars on the road, and once they hear from their friends and family using SunRail on how great it is, people will be more likely to give it a shot. There are new roads. So far, the only feasible solution is SunRail. I think it would be a good thing to incorporate into Central Florida.”
If SunRail does get built, Perez would have to drive from her parent’s home to Poinciana Boulevard, and then up to the Poinciana Industrial Park, which is at the intersection with Orange Blossom Trail. Then she could catch the train into downtown Orlando.
It could still turn out to be a 90-minute commute each way, since it takes more than 20 minutes to travel from her home to the Poinciana station. But that gives her time to study and let someone else do the driving, she added.
“It will ease up the commute, not only for people who drive a lot, but for students like myself who need to get to universities,” she said.
With gas prices still very high, driving that far a distance has been costly, she added.
“I had my entire college paid for, but I had to take out loans for my car and the gas,” she said. “Even if SunRail takes three hours a day, from Point A to Point B, that’s three hours you can spend studying.”
Perez would also like an opportunity to get to places where she can socialize with friends – something that Poinciana lacks today, she added.
“As far as going out, I don’t like — and none of my friends like – getting back to Poinciana, then driving an hour to get somewhere on a Friday night,” she said. “Here in Poinciana, there are a couple of parks. No movie theaters, no restaurants to go to, no shopping malls. I don’t do very much in Poinciana except go to the parks once in a while.”
Keith Laytham, a retired Poinciana resident and member of Poinciana Residents for Smart Change – a group working to improve the community – is a SunRail supporter, and he said young people like Perez are the community’s future. They also demonstrate, he said, why there’s a need for alternative transportation options like this one.
“She is a Poinciana resident who would prefer to remain in Poinciana, but is being forced to consider abandoning Poinciana to move closer to Orlando because of the transportation issue,” Laytham said.
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