Sunday, May 31, 2015

1,000 support DeLand SunRail

It took less than a week for more than 1,000 people to sign an online petition to extend SunRail commuter train service to DeLand in Volusia County.

One day this could be reality in DeLand
Specifically, the petition asks U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Acting Federal Transit Administrator Therese McMillan to approve a TIGER VII grant that would be used to improve the tracks and other facilities needed to bring SunRail to the DeLand Amtrak train station.

Currently DeBary is the end of the line for SunRail in Volusia County and the county’s only SunRail station. Money for the DeLand extension was not included in President Obama’s 2016 budget and Florida Department of Transportation leaders are pursuing the federal TIGER grant to get the extension done. DeLand’s bid, however, is hurt by a federal study which projects that only about 200 people would use the station.

That projection seemed ridiculously low to us and that’s why we launched the petition. We figured at least 500 people would sign. Boy, was our figure off base as well.

Getting SunRail extended to DeLand is a cause most Central Floridians should support. DeLand (population 28,000) is the Volusia County seat, home of Stetson University and a large regional office of the state Department of Transportation. A SunRail station here would serve Orange City, Deltona, DeLeon Springs, Lake Helen, other west Volusia communities and eastern Lake County.

Besides being environmentally friendly, SunRail provides an alternative to the awful traffic congestion on I-4 as well as opens economic, employment, education, entertainment and cultural opportunities in Central Florida.

Some complain that the DeLand Amtrak station, located 5 miles away in a largely wooded and undeveloped area, is too far from its downtown. We appreciate their concern. It would be great if SunRail stopped in the heart of a downtown community like it does in Winter Park. However, that wasn’t in the cards. The deal to create SunRail required the state to buy a 61-mile railroad track corridor from CSX. Those tracks lead to the DeLand Amtrak station.

This story is far from over as DeLand leaders are considering several strategies – from a trolley to buses – to link downtown DeLand to the train station.

This month FDOT officials will present the TIGER VII grant application to the feds. Despite our 1,000 signatures, it’s too early to rejoice over the possibility of receiving the needed grant funds, If you haven’t added your name, please click here. Signing the petition adds weight to the application and further demonstrates how serious the need for SunRail is to Central Floridians.

See you on The Rail.

(DeLand graphic created by Diane Glassman Kish)

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