In the News
Volume 3 Issue 10
November 3, 2005
Transportation has been consistently recognized as one of the lynchpin issues for Central Florida as myregion.org, regional leaders and citizens address the question of “How Will We Grow?” as a region over the next 50 years. The funding announcement highlighted in this Orlando Sentinel article provides significant opportunities for Central Florida to make strides in the transportation arena through the
widening of I-4 and the start of commuter rail in the region.
Area to get $574 million for I-4, train
Gov. Jeb Bush distributes money for projects statewide.
Scott Powers and Jason Garcia
Orlando Sentinel Staff Writers
November 3, 2005
Central Florida will get more than a half-billion dollars in new state money to help jump-start plans to widen Interstate 4 and start running a commuter train in the next few years.
The region won the largest share of $3.1 billion in new road money handed out by Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday.
The money, which will pay for critical transportation construction projects around Florida, comes from the state's newly created growth-management program.
A total of $574 million will go to Central Florida projects. The I-4 project will widen the highway to 12 lanes from eight through much of Orange and Seminole counties. The commuter-rail system is set to run through Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties, starting as early as 2009.
The new money means Central Florida can move forward on two of its costliest and most significant transportation plans. Without the money, those plans -- which politicians had been promising to make a reality for months -- could have fallen apart.
The money wasn't altogether unexpected, but until Wednesday it wasn't in hand. State officials and U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, had promised last summer that the state would somehow come up with needed money for both the freeway and train.
"Champagne corks should be popping all over town," Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty said. "It seems very clear that they [the promises] are being delivered."
The I-4 and rail projects are among 141 projects to get money across Florida. Others include $20 million to build an airport near Panama City and nearly $180 million to dig a tunnel under the main channel of the Port of Miami. Polk County will get $20.8 million to widen a portion of U.S. Highway 27 south of Haines City.
"The new funding will increase mobility, promote regionalism and provide more transportation choices for Floridians," Bush said.
For I-4, the Florida Department of Transportation will get $300 million to start buying land it needs to widen the freeway by two lanes in each direction from Kirkman Road in Orange County to State Road 434 in Seminole County. The money also will pay to overhaul several major I-4 interchanges.
Officials are unclear when the construction could start, most likely early in the next decade, said George
In the News
Volume 3 Issue 10
November 3, 2005
Gilhooley, secretary for FDOT District 5. It had been set for 2014; now it may come sooner. The total I-4 project, dubbed the "final build-out" of that congested freeway, could cost $1.7 billion and take many years. The I-4 plans were in jeopardy because, until now, officials had no cash at hand, and they wanted to start buying the land as soon as possible before land prices escalated out of reach.
An additional $220.6 million will pay for improvements to railroad tracks that will allow CSX Transportation to divert most of its freight trains around Orlando, and thereby open up the company's Central Florida tracks for a public commuter train. If state officials can complete negotiations this year with CSX, the train could start limited service by 2009 and be running regularly from Debary to Poinciana by 2011.
And $53.5 million will let the state pay for any operation and maintenance losses of the commuter train for up to seven years, so that county and city governments along the route don't have to worry about the unpredictable costs of subsidizing the operation during early years.
Gilhooley had promised that his department would be able to use the growth-management money to help get the commuter train started.
He wasn't the only one making big promises about transportation money. Mica had vowed to get I-4 money to Central Florida after he killed an earlier deal this summer that would have provided funds to widen the highway.
Under that deal, Florida's Turnpike Enterprise planned to donate $350 million for I-4 land acquisition. But the new lanes that would have been built would have been toll lanes run by the Turnpike Enterprise, and Mica loathed the idea of toll lanes on I-4. So he wrote a provision into federal law this summer banning toll lanes on I-4, and the Turnpike Enterprise withdrew its offer.
"I'm glad this is working out," Mica said Wednesday. "I think it's sort of a turning point in that this state is now focusing some of their resources on Central Florida, which is not just a state but a national asset and economic generator. I think it's very appropriate. In the past, a lot of the money has gone to other parts of the state and we've picked up some of our obligation by building toll roads or not moving on projects.
"That can't continue to happen," he said.
Gilhooley said officials in Tallahassee shared that sentiment.
"We had strong support from our central office regarding that there are needed projects here in Central Florida, and now is the time to move ahead and get them done," Gilhooley said. "There is much support for I-4, for fixing it. You don't talk to a lot of people who don't understand what I-4 is like through Orlando. And there is a lot of support for commuter rail."
The multibillion cash infusion stems from a massive overhaul of growth-management laws that Bush has made a centerpiece of his second term.
The windfall also comes as Florida heads into a crucial election year, in which voters will decide Bush's successor. The I-4 corridor is seen as the state's most contentious political battleground, into which both Democrats and Republicans are expected to pour millions of dollars in television advertising.
Although Bush won't be on the ticket, the two-term governor is expected to campaign vigorously for the Republican nominee, following a primary likely to feature Attorney General Charlie Crist and Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.