A SunRail commuter rail train crosses Church Street in Downtown Orlando.

According to the latest 2018 census estimates, despite a -1.34% change in growth since 2010, the Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area is home to 2.3 million residents. In comparison, the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford MSA has increased 20.53% over the same time frame, growing to 2.6 million residents. In Central Florida, LYNX has approximately 300 buses to service 2,500 square miles. However, in Pittsburgh, 700 buses provide services to a county that is only 745 square miles.

By now, it should be no secret that Orlando is experiencing extraordinary population growth. In fact, alone Orange County is growing by a net of nearly 1,000 new residents each week. If projections remain the same, the Central region will reach 5.2 million residents by 2030. It should also be no secret for anyone commuting that parts of Orange County rank among the highest average commute times in Florida and that the region is one of the most dangerous urban areas in the country for pedestrians.

LYNX Central Station in Downtown Orlando.

To overcome the mobility challenges that come with rapid growth, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings would like to accomplish what Atlanta, Vancouver, Nashville and St. Petersburg have failed to do in recent years. In his May 2019 State of the County address, Demings announced plans for a tax referendum on public transportation for the 2020 ballot. If successful, the transportation penny sales tax would generate $635 million per year on purchases of retail goods and services, excluding essential food items. Attracting a record breaking 75 million visitors in 2018, it is believed that at least 51 percent of the funds generated through the tax would be paid by visitors and tourist outside of Orange County.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings

Seeking public input and support for providing long-term transportation solutions, Mayor Demings hosted a transportation community town hall meeting in late August to a standing room only crowd at Downtown’s LYNX Central Station. There, it was revealed that Orange County ranks among the lowest in transportation funding in Florida, 43rd out of 67 counties for transportation spending per capita. Many residents also mentioned that the public transit system in inadequate with LYNX bus routes not meeting the current demand and SunRail not running often enough. As a result of the region’s reliance on the automobile, the average monthly Orange County household cost of driving is $1,079. A number significantly higher than a $50 monthly bus service pass. Furthermore, many public comments mentioned the need for more reliable multimodal routes tying the east and west parts of the county together.

David Thomas Moran of CFL4Transit prepares to speak at the August transportation community town hall meeting.

As it looks to build support, the county is promising to hold dozens of these town hall meetings over the next year, looking for long-term solutions. If approved, increased funding could support several local industries through a recession, increase the number of LYNX routes while reducing most wait times by 50 percent. Other various mobility improvements on county roads that could be funded through a sales tax increase include technology, traffic signals, street lighting, roadway widening and resurfacing, public transportation, intersection improvements and pedestrian safety projects.

The LYNX Link 111 route serves as the connection between Central Florida’s SunRail commuter rail system and Orlando International Airport.

Understanding that building support for a sales tax increase requires time, several more community engagement meetings will be held in upcoming months. Following the community engagement process, a plan would be developed and provided to the Board of County Commissioners for a decision. Assuming the board’s approval, a community report would be created and the transportation sales tax referendum would be included on the county’s November 2020 ballot.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com