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Local commuter rail: Is it full steam ahead?

Noelle C. Haner

Senior Staff Writer

ORLANDO -- After more than two decades of discussion, commuter rail in Central Florida finally may be heading down the right track. And it may happen by 2009.

"The stars are sort of aligning," says Tawny Olore, the Florida Department of Transportation's commuter rail project manager.

In March, U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, secured $8.9 million in federal funding for rail stations and supporting infrastructure for the 62-mile, 15-stop system. The state also has agreed to pick up the tab for the first four years of the system's operations and for the use of CSX Transportation's A-line tracks from DeLand to Kissimmee for the line -- a commitment that could cost the state as much as $450 million.

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<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

This article has echoed my points.

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This article has echoed my points.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Although i would say the article is considerably more upbeat about the prospects for the plan than you've been. ;)

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Well at least we know that CSX and the state are in negotiations. :) This dumb Ax the Tax guy needs to be the one axed. Commuter rail is a luxury?

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Well at least we know that CSX and the state are in negotiations.  :)  This dumb Ax the Tax guy needs to be the one axed.  Commuter rail is a luxury?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I suppose this is one project that Guetzloe can't derail (pun intended).

Praise the Lord that Orange Countians aren't voting, as this would never see the light of day.

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This dumb Ax the Tax guy needs to be the one axed.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Seriously, this guy is such a pig. I can't describe in the appropriate words on this forum without fear of being banned.

I swear I don't condone "tax, tax, tax till ones' heart is content", but this Guetzole guy just opposes everything to make headlines. His statement about commuter rail is so far off base, it shouldn't have even been printed. That's all he's interested in is more air-time.

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Mayor's stand on rail system irks neighbors

Orange County defends position, raises doubts about timing, ridership and funding.

Noelle C. Haner

Senior Staff Writer

ORLANDO -- In the last week, Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty has come under more fire than U.S. troops in Iraq.

The reason: Despite widespread political and business support for Central Florida's $473.5 million commuter rail project, Crotty and members of the Orange County Commission -- citing timing, ridership and funding issues -- have openly expressed concerns about the county's ability to back the proposed 60.4-mile rail system.

"The problem is we won't have the full picture (of our budget, available federal funding or the environmental impact statement until September), but we are being asked to pledge the funds before we know everything. We are being asked to answer the question before we know what the question is," says Crotty.

Such a go-slow stance has won the mayor praise in some circles but caused a firestorm among the county's neighbors.

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Eh. They are going to kill it. At least someone has brains:

"Commuter rail is much more important to Orange County from an economic development aspect," he says. "They are all wrong in saying it will help the outlying areas more. The viability of its downtown depends on the ability to bring workers to it. The center of the system will get the greatest economic benefit."

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Eh.  They are going to kill it.  At least someone has brains:

"Commuter rail is much more important to Orange County from an economic development aspect," he says. "They are all wrong in saying it will help the outlying areas more. The viability of its downtown depends on the ability to bring workers to it. The center of the system will get the greatest economic benefit."

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I don't know. I suspect we'll see some unprecedented scrambling these next few weeks to get it done.

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It pains me to watch this ongoing saga between Orange County and everyone else. It's unfortunate that such a large seat of government is so ignorant, selfish, closed-minded, combatant, and unwilling to cooperate on issues that are so important to an entire region.

As long as Richard Crotty is the "Mayor" of Orange County, metro Orlando will be the poster child for transportation mismanagement.

I'm beginning to think that the city should pull a Jacksonville and just incorporate all of Orange County to put an end to all of this nonsense.

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Obviously I don't know if all the players involved would give it a green light, so I am basing my opinion off of conjecture and history.

Even if a different county were to agree with Mr. Crotty and reject the proposal, it doesn't change the fact that Orange County is still opposed to the plan (as it usually is).

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Obviously I don't know if all the players involved would give it a green light, so I am basing my opinion off of conjecture and history.

Even if a different county were to agree with Mr. Crotty and reject the proposal, it doesn't change the fact that Orange County is still opposed to the plan (as it usually is).

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

As long as it is acknowledged that Crotty's reservations about the plan do not amount to opposition to mass transit ...

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On a related note, from today's editorial section, FYI.

EDITORIAL

Attention deficit

Our position: Crotty hasn't shown enough leadership on unjamming I-Drive traffic.

June 20, 2005

Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty often describes the International Drive area as "Orange County's Downtown," home to the mammoth county convention center and a vast array of tourist support services, from discount T-shirt shops to swanky hotels.

But when visitors arrive en masse, lured by trade shows at the second-largest convention center in the nation, Mr. Crotty's "downtown" screeches to a halt. Locals won't go anywhere near the place. And conventioneers routinely complain that driving just a few blocks can take up to a half-hour.

By any measure, I-Drive is in crisis. And its mayor needs to do more than stand idly by while local businesses ponder the area's transportation future. Six years have passed since a handful of I-Drive merchants shot down a light-rail system that would have ferried folks along the tourist corridor. Since then, the convention center has doubled in size, generating even more traffic. Still, the navel-gazing continues.

As mayor of "downtown," Mr. Crotty needs to step in and fill that leadership void.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has a lot at stake, too. The most congested parts of I-Drive are within the city limits, north of Carrier Drive. And he needs to partner with Mr. Crotty.

But Mr. Crotty should lead the charge. The county, after all, controls most of the money generated by I-Drive tourists. And county taxpayers have a huge financial stake in the convention center.

Sure, some improvements have been made. Just recently, Orange County agreed to spend $1.5 million for synchronized traffic lights in the area. That might help short-term. Long term, it's not the solution.

But I-Drive could leverage up to $60 million for transportation improvements in the area. That won't buy another rail system or a Lymmo-type bus system. But there are options, such as a novel circulator system that developer Marc Watson plans for his 2,200-acre project east of the convention center. Why not take a serious look at expanding that system along I-Drive?

The status quo obviously won't do. When traffic strands thousands of visitors for hours on end, that affects the convention center's ability to attract business. The entire region's tourism-dependent economy suffers. And ultimately, all taxpayers pay the price.

Unfortunately, Mr. Crotty seems particularly loath to rise to the challenge. He's running for re-election next year, and seemingly fears that some voters might not grasp the benefit of addressing transportation problems in the county's most congested corridors.

Why not tell the truth? Taxpayers have a multibillion-dollar investment in the convention center. But if visitors go elsewhere, the tax burden increases for all.

For too long, I-Drive has suffered from a lack of leadership on transportation issues. Mr. Dyer and, particularly, Mr. Crotty need to regain control of the county's "downtown" destiny.

Copyright

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Crotty's response in today's paper.

MY WORD

Crotty: I am transportation leader

By Rich Crotty

My Word

June 21, 2005

The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board has repeatedly portrayed me as "timid" relative to rail transit in Orange County. Enough already!

As a matter of fact, I was the chief rainmaker of innovative rail solutions as a member of the Florida Legislature. I was the prime sponsor of enabling legislation for the Maglev demonstration project (SB 348, 1990). I also sponsored legislation creating the Central Florida Commuter Rail Authority (HB 1656, 1989) to mirror South Florida's Tri-Rail project, and authorizing the state to become a funding partner. One could argue we would not even have come this far without my involvement. More recently, I voted for the supplemental environmental impact study to further evaluate the viability of a commuter rail in our region. The study should be complete in September.

With that in mind, I have suggested local leaders exercise "due diligence" as it relates to the commuter-rail project. If making decisions based on facts is timid, so be it. It should be noted that notwithstanding the lack of detail and lack of a funding partnership arrangement, I recognized the need to keep our options open and voted for placing the project in the region's 2025 long-range plan. In other words, although the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board may not believe that I support this project, I have voted for it not once but twice. The problem seems to be that I asked a lot of questions both times. Our citizens deserve no less.

The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board has strongly implied I may be gun shy because of my upcoming election. Outrageous! Who supported the "Change for Kids" campaign to improve school facilities? Oh, by the way, that vote was held the same day my name appeared on the ballot. And who led the charge for "Mobility 20/20," a comprehensive transportation solution for Orange County?

As a result of this year's growth-management legislation, we may be able to further leverage our investment with the state of Florida. Isn't it appropriate for me to explore ways to create a better project through a better partnership?

The punch line is: I have shown more leadership for transportation improvements at the local level than arguably any other leader -- ever. People appreciate a leader who "looks before he leaps," and I believe closer evaluation and the creation of a sensible partnership make good "walkin' around sense."

Unlike the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board, I'm not prepared to "ready, fire, aim." I am, however, prepared to vote for commuter rail -- for the third time -- when it is right for the citizens of Orange County, not just the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board.

Rich Crotty is the mayor of Orange County.

Copyright

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It is funny just how much credit he awards himself in this article and yet, did he really say anything of importance in this long winded response? No.

My favorite part: "The punch line is: I have shown more leadership for transportation improvements at the local level than arguably any other leader -- ever." Hogwash. I guess he believes road widening will solve all our problems.

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Eesh. Well, I'm impressed he took the time to refute the Sentinel since he felt they mislabled him. But you're right, there is no meat in what he's saying. The tone actually sounds kind of childish, with the "Oh, by the way..." and such. The thing that bothered me most about the letter is the mention of such a project being in the "2025 long-range plan." I guess it's kind of ambiguous what he is trying to imply... but this is a matter that needs to be addressed sooner than 2025.

So basically if the price isn't right in his terms, it will just get pushed back. Then maybe it will get reintroduced in 5 years from now... then get's pushed back again. So the necessity grows stronger year by year, yet it might just keep getting pushed back. So it becomes chicken or the egg.... pay the price now or pay later...

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Three points ...

(1) Perhaps he was being childish. Or maybe he was just chiding the Sentinel. I myself believe that the Sentinel ought to be chided early and often, as a general rule.

(2) Also, you have to build and expand roadways, or you're simply not dealing with reality.

(3) It was clear that Crotty wanted rail shortly, as was evidenced by his visible dejection after 20/20 was crushed. If anything, I thought he was chiding Orange Countians for not thinking ahead.

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Three points ...

(1) Perhaps he was being childish. Or maybe he was just chiding the Sentinel. I myself believe that the Sentinel ought to be chided early and often, as a general rule.

(2) Also, you have to build and expand roadways, or you're simply not dealing with reality.

(3) It was clear that Crotty wanted rail shortly, as was evidenced by his visible dejection after 20/20 was crushed. If anything, I thought he was chiding Orange Countians for not thinking ahead.

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I think we'll all agree the Sentinel is not a beacon for journalism. And I completely agree with you about building and expanding roadways. But building roads is expensive, too. I am in no way saying commuter rail (or any kind) will replace the need for new and better roads. No way, no how - not in the USA. Even if we had the best urban setting the world ever knew with picture perfect transit, I'd still want my own car for those occasions I just wanted to do my own thing.

But why not such hesitation when it comes to new roads? I think it's because roads are a known quantity, there is no doubt people will use them (well, expcept for the Osceola Parkway!). Unfortunately, rail just has this stigma about it in the United States that it is not an optimal mode for transportation. But I believe if you build a good system that runs efficiently and you promote it well within the community, it will succeed.

Ultimately, in the current situation I fear the state and fed pulling their offers from the table for the current proposal. Then we will have all the time in the world to obtain the due dilligence, yet not enough funds to proceed if the propsal turns out to be fair.

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I think we'll all agree the Sentinel is not a beacon for journalism.  And I completely agree with you about building and expanding roadways.  But building roads is expensive, too.  I am in no way saying commuter rail (or any kind) will replace the need for new and better roads.  No way, no how - not in the USA.  Even if we had the best urban setting the world ever knew with picture perfect transit, I'd still want my own car for those occasions I just wanted to do my own thing.

But why not such hesitation when it comes to new roads?  I think it's because roads are a known quantity, there is no doubt people will use them (well, expcept for the Osceola Parkway!).  Unfortunately, rail just has this stigma about it in the United States that it is not an optimal mode for transportation.  But I believe if you build a good system that runs efficiently and you promote it well within the community, it will succeed. 

Ultimately, in the current situation I fear the state and fed pulling their offers from the table for the current proposal.  Then we will have all the time in the world to obtain the due dilligence, yet not enough funds to proceed if the propsal turns out to be fair.

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I could be wrong here, but I rather suspect that Crotty realizes the stakes involved such as: (1) Loss of confidence in regional cooperation (2) Loss of all that money (3) Further deterioration of traffic woes.

I don't envy Crotty a bit, the pressure he must feel to balance all that against the need examine, for a moment, the viability of the proposal, in the face of all the criticism (which could just as well be directed at other parties as well).

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I wish he would be so cautious when the convention center was being expanded.

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Yes, you may be right about that.

Of course, I'm sad that they didn't build it downtown.

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and they wont let Orlando to build convention center in downtown. The downtown conference center in the master plan needs to be built in term of "it does not compete with Orange county Convention Center".

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Dale I don't share your concern for Crotty in regards to his needs to "balance" out transportation woes. This proposal is pretty damn good and his comments on this issue thus far are inaccurate, and therefore he's more of an obstructionist than anything else. His need to respond to the Sentinel in this manner clearly shows his concern for his image more than anything else.

Many of you here are complaining about the "Slantinel" yet is there anything in that editorial that you disagree with?

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