- August 28, 2019
Between tourism and rapid growth, it’s no secret that infrastructure and transportation issues plague Orange County — particularly on the west side, where much of the residential growth occurs.
To address these growing pains related to transportation within the county, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings has proposed placing a one-cent sales tax increase
to fund transportation initiatives on the November 2020 ballot. The tax would generate an estimated $600 million per year and would help fund Lynx, SunRail and other transportation-related projects. Demings discussed the proposed tax and solicited input from District 1 residents during a Town Hall meeting Tuesday, Dec. 10, at the West Orange Recreation Center in Winter Garden.
“The best solution to this challenge that we have is to engage … the citizens in the process,” Demings said. “It is our goal to do a lot of listening and then, in early spring, to perfect a plan of action around what the citizens of Orange County have told us they desire to see in the way of solutions.”
Because of tourism and the continued, rapid growth in Orange County, the county will need a dedicated funding source to help pay for transportation and infrastructure issues throughout the area, Demings said. He believes the one-cent sales tax increase is the best solution to generate the revenue needed to address the county’s transportation issues.
Additionally, tourists would be contributing 51% of the revenues that would be derived from the sales-tax initiative. The tax would be applied to retail goods and services and would not be applied to essential food items, prescription drugs or utilities.
“When we look at all the top 50 metropolitan communities around America, they all have a dedicated funding source,” Demings said, adding that two previous county initiatives for a transportation tax failed. “If we continue to kick the can down the road, the traffic congestion that we have is going to get worse.”
Carla Bell Johnson, a strategic planning and development manager for Orange County, discussed the county’s current funding sources for transportation — such as the gas tax, impact fees and property taxes — which she said do not meet the needs to keep up with the issues. Furthermore, high costs associated with road maintenance and construction pose another financial hurdle.
“There are about 2,700 miles of county roadways within Orange County, and … it costs more than $3 million per lane mile to widen a roadway,” Johnson said.
Another challenge relates to public transportation. Lynx and SunRail do not run often enough, and the SunRail doesn’t touch any of the municipalities of West Orange County, Demings said.
Lynx CEO Jim Harrison said most Lynx riders work in the service industry, and one of the most common complaints is related to commute times.
“Half of our riders use Lynx as their primary method to get to work, and over half of our riders have to take two or more buses — making a transfer to complete their trip,” Harrison said. “This is one of the most common issues we hear about— just in talking about the Lynx system in general — is how long it takes.”
WHAT RESIDENTS ARE SAYING
Windermere resident Ricardo Cumberbatch said he doesn’t have an issue with the sales tax increase and supports the idea of having a dedicated funding source for transportation needs.
“The previous mayor said … we want to live, work and play in our community,” Cumberbatch said. “I think that’s one solution — we need to bring more businesses (to the area), especially to Horizon West. … I want to bring more businesses to the communities (in West Orange), because we’re diversified here. We have Windermere, we have Ocoee (and) we have other places around here that are different in (varying) aspects. In Windermere, you’re not going to bring a train or a bus. That’s not going to happen because we’re surrounded by lakes, anyway.”
Ken Peach, executive director of the Health Council of East Central Florida, has been a resident of District 1 — from Winter Garden to Clarcona to his current residence in Dr. Phillips — since 1984. He supports the increase but also suggested the county comes up with a way to take cars off the roads by reducing the need to travel somewhere.
“The answer to anything often is capacity, and we know that we’re running out of capacity for transportation — we can only make the roads so wide,” Peach said. “When I look at the capacity issue, I always look at it from the flip side, and that is, ‘How do we reduce the need to do something?’ In this case, the question I brought up … was simply about, ‘When we’re looking at capacity, let’s just not look at how we increase capacity to transportation, but also, maybe, where can we reduce the need to move people?’”