Lakeland, Haines City among Polk County cities recommended for SunRail stops

Lakeland, Haines City among Polk County cities recommended for SunRail stops

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) —Seven areas in Polk County could someday be home to a stop on the greater Orlando-based, publicly-funded commuter rail system.

Some city officials are open to the idea. Others are thrilled. One county leader thinks it should never and will never come to fruition.

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In recent weeks, the Florida Department of Transportation presented its recommendations to the Polk Transportation Planning Organization after conducting a study and survey for SunRail expansion into Polk County.

Source: Florida Department of Transportation
Source: Florida Department of Transportation

FDOT recommended seven SunRail stops in Polk County: Loughman, Davenport, Haines City, Lake Alfred, Auburndale, Polk Parkway and Lakeland.

The rail system operates Monday-Friday.

“I think it’s a great option to study at this point, see what the numbers show,” said Chuck Barmby, Lakeland Planning & Transportation manager.

He said, with the right funding package, a SunRail stop could be beneficial to Lakeland.

“Our growth is higher than what we’re seeing around much of the country. To be able to accommodate that, we’ve got to figure out how to get people around without having to put them in an automobile,” said Barmby.

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FDOT points out in its SunRail extension presentation, more than 15,000 people will live and/or work within a 1-mile radius of a potential SunRail stop in Lakeland by the year 2035.

According to Barmby, the SunRail stop would be located in a new intermodal center near the RP Funding Center, which would also house the head terminal for Citrus Connection, Polk County’s bus transit system, and a new Amtrak station.

Rendering of Lakeland’s intermodal center<br>Source: city of Lakeland
Rendering of Lakeland’s intermodal center
Source: city of Lakeland

“If you look at the cost to construct roadway improvements, rail, even though it’s expensive, it’s a much less cost than it is to add a lane mile of interstate highway, particularly in an urban area,” said Barmby.

But cost is one reason why Polk County Commissioner Bill Braswell is still not on board with SunRail in Polk County.

According to FDOT’s presentation, the first phase of the extension, from the current stop in Poinciana to Haines City and Davenport, would cost an estimated $23 million per mile to construct and $12 million a year to operate and maintain.

“I don’t think it’s coming. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen and I don’t think we need it,” said Braswell.

Another reason Braswell does not see a future for SunRail in Polk is because of the Orlando-area stops.

“Where a lot of the employment occurs for people in Polk County is over at the attractions, Disney World, Universal sort of jobs. Those people are still going to be on the road. They still got to drive to work. It’s going to do nothing for them,” said Braswell.

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Braswell does not think enough people will ditch their cars for SunRail.

Haines City Mayor Roy Tyler disagrees.

He told News Channel 8 Monday he has spent several years looking into transportation in his booming city.

He said he is “adamantly” in support of a SunRail stop in Haines City, which is part of the proposed first phase of the extension.

“Because I have spent the last five years looking in depth at SunRail, it would be a part of a solution. It wouldn’t be the solution. Those who don’t think it would work, I doubt they could give you what they feel like is the solution other than more pavement,” said Mayor Tyler.

At some point, the mayor said, another lane of traffic for vehicles simply does not work.

According to FDOT, 98% of the nearly 5,000 people who participated in a survey this year said they supported SunRail expansion into Polk County.

The SunRail expansion is a five-phase process, according to FDOT’s presentation.

With the latest recommendations and plans, the phase 1 “planning” is complete.

The study, design, right-of-way and construction phases remain.

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