Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Brightline Seeing Pushback from Central Florida Expressway Authority, Businesses, and Residents Regarding Orlando Route

Brightline is facing pushback from the Central Florida Expressway Authority, local businesses, and residents regarding its proposal over the right-of-way for a future Orlando-Tampa route. The right-of-way designates the land for transportation services, and Brightline must secure a right-of-way by July 31.

Brightline is currently constructing a rail between Miami and Orlando, having recently reached the halfway point. The line would then run from the Orlando International Airport to Tampa, with a Disney Springs station on the way.

There are two proposed paths, one along Taft-Vineland and one along State Road 417. Both would be approximately the same length, but the former would cost $2.12 billion while the latter would cost $1.03 billion. Brightline prefers the cheaper option.

International Drive businesses and associations, including the International Drive Resort Area Chamber of Commerce, support the Taft-Vineland route, which would be more profitable for them.

Jay Madara, senior vice president of the PGA Tour, and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings expressed concerns on June 10 about the cost and lack of data of both routes.

Demings stated additional funding would need to be secured if the Taft-Vineland route is chosen. Due to COVID-19, Orange County’s tourist development tax is not at a strong enough level to be a possible source.

“It’s fascinating to have a discussion about the other route, but someone is going to have to pay,” Demings said.

The International Drive association and stakeholders shared a commissioned study by Watertown, arguing the Taft-Vineland route would have a lower cost than Brightline’s estimate. The new estimate includes a longer route of 17.17 instead of 16.7 at a cost of $1.01 billion to $1.23 billion, depending on if it is partially or fully elevated. The study also alleged that more properties would be impacted by the 417 route than the Taft-Vineland route.

“The study finds that proper due diligence of this project has not been conducted and that the 528 Taft-Vineland route provides a much more effective route option, with a station at the Orange County Convention Center to service the I-Drive corridor and the southwest region,” a letter from the chamber of commerce stated. “We believe that this route is both efficient, inclusive and, according to our financial analysis, is not nearly as costly as Brightline is projecting.”

Some also expressed concerns about the 417 route’s possible effects on the environment, quality of life, and noise pollution. This includes residents of Hunter’s Creek, who have previously expressed opposition to the route.

Director of advocacy for Audubon Florida, Charles Lee, supports the 417 route as the best way to transport travelers from city to city, stating an I-Drive spot would be redundant.

Michael Cegelis, executive vice president for rail infrastructure with Brightline, said it might be possible to work with a neutral consultant to provide a uniform data set.

Brightline is also still considering alternate routes. Cegelis stated, “The basic cost data is from our current experience building, in current day, high-speed rail between Cocoa and Orlando. There’s the expectation that we might be biased, but we are looking for the best way to get to Tampa. We have a strong economic incentive to do that.”

The current timeline for the Orlando to Tampa connection would have it completed in 2028 or 2029.

Source: Orlando Business Journal

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