Tuesday, September 29, 2015

SunRail could go to Polk County

Folks in Polk County want to jump aboard SunRail, and who can blame them because thousands of them work in the Orlando area and have to endure the mind-numbing congestion on Interstate 4.

A study to extend SunRail into Polk County – sandwiched between Osceola and Hillsborough counties – was prepared earlier this year.

The SunRail feasibility study states: “There are significant movements of people between Polk County and areas to the east. Connecting to SunRail would provide travel alternatives for the tens of thousands of people who move between Polk County and its neighbors to the north and east. The 2035 Polk County Mobility Vision Plan extending SunRail into Polk County.”

Catching SunRail in Polk County is far from a done deal.

The study lays out a 4-phase plan to connect Polk County residents to SunRail. It starts with express-bus service to the future SunRail station in Osceola’s Poinciana, and graduates to extending actual SunRail train service to Haines City, then to Auburndale and finally to Lakeland.

Expanding SunRail to Polk County is a very long road, as people in Osceola County and DeLand know.

Papers will be signed this month to finalize the full-funding grant agreement for the Osceola County SunRail expansion due to be completed in 2017. DeLand residents are still waiting to see if a federal grant will come through to extend commuter-train service to their Volusia County city.

Under the best of circumstances Polk County will have to come up with tens of millions of dollars, plus hopefully get money from the federal government to extend train service. Then there’s the matter of acquiring access to freight tracks for use by the SunRail in Polk County. Getting access isn’t cheap. The Florida Department of Transportation had to pay a king’s ransom to buy the tracks it now uses in Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties.

SunRail service to Polk County is doable. It all depends on the political will of Polk County residents and their leaders.

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