Billions in road, rail and bus improvements promised if penny sales tax passes

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — For years, Orange County’s mayor promised major transportation improvements if voters approved a 1% sales tax increase, with an eye toward transitioning Orlando from a mid-tier metro area to a certain future as one of the United States’ largest cities.

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However, administrators knew that voters were unlikely to hand over money blindly, even if more than half of the tax would be paid for by tourists.

In more than 1,100 pages released Tuesday, they gave voters and county commissioners a look at what $600 million per year – $17.9 billion over a 30-year span – would get them.

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In short: a lot.

Road widenings and realignments. Rail expansion. Bus expansion. Security and traffic cameras. Bike paths. Sidewalk renovations. The list goes on and on. Officials say households would each save up to 140 hours per year on their commutes due to lower congestion and $4,000 in maintenance and gas expenses.

You can check out the full document here, but here are some of the major promises:

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Road

According to the plan, 195 miles of streets and intersections would be improved county-wide, along with 25 miles of bike paths and sidewalks, and 154 miles of major roadways. The road and technology upgrades would run between $3 and $5 billion.

Major roads would be re-worked to cut down on Orlando’s reputation as a deadly city for pedestrians. Plans call for improvements to corridors like Colonial Drive, International Drive, SR 436, SR 192, Pine Hills Road and Universal Boulevard.

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Traffic signals would be upgraded to better time the intersections and adapt to day-to-day conditions, including adding additional pedestrian sensors.

The first round of projects would begin in 2023.

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Bus

Lynx would undergo a major expansion under the plan, bringing more routes to areas further away from downtown. The organization would also introduce a network of express and high frequency routes that connect major transit hubs to employment centers like the theme parks. The change would address concerns from corporations looking to relocate to Orlando that their campuses wouldn’t be near any public transit.

Organization leaders said their aim was to have 50% of routes operating every 10-15 minutes at peak times, and expanding service to 21 hours per day. Additionally, traffic signals would be re-worked to allow buses to pass through some intersections more quickly.

Officials said their goal was to make Lynx more attractive for commuters, potentially pulling cars off the roads during rush hour.

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Rail

West Orange County would finally see a long-promised Sunrail expansion. Named the Orange Blossom Express, the route would run between the Lynx central station and Zellwood, with stops in the growing Apopka area. Because the route utilizes existing tracks, a future expansion into Lake County would be possible, though it’s not part of this proposal.

A third line would be introduced, connecting the network to the new Orlando International Airport terminal, with service every 30 minutes. Between the new route and Sunrail’s existing main route, urban stations between the airport and Maitland would see trains every 15 minutes.

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Sunrail also promises to expand services to weekends, nights and holidays.

County commissioners will vote to place this plan on the November ballot by next month. While the proposal has measures in place for accountability, some commissioners aren’t yet sold. Early feedback indicated they would like to see guarantees in place that what the voters are promised will be delivered by future leaders.

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