DUNDEE – In 2018, local mayors and commissioners representing residents living along the Lake Wales Ridge, with help from Ridge League of Cities staff, began lobbying Citrus Connection staff and the Polk County Board of County Commissioners for expanded Citrus Connection bus coverage.
There were a few previously existing bus routes from Haines City, Dundee and Lake Wales that connect residents to Winter Haven and beyond, but the mayors repeatedly said a bus route was needed that traveled up and down U.S. Highway 27 — which would allow residents another option to get to work in the fast growing Four Corners area.
The new Citrus Connection bus routes up and down U.S. 27 opened Oct. 22 after a ribbon cutting ceremony in front of Dundee Town Hall.
The year-long lobbying effort paid off at an annual county commission board retreat at Circle B Reserve last February, when county commissioners agreed to pay 80 percent of the $366,000 cost for the first year of service of the new bus route. Haines City, Dundee, Lake Wales and Lake Hamilton will fund the remaining 20 percent.
“We have heard what the mayors on the Ridge have had to say,” Polk County Commissioner John Hall said at the ribbon cutting.
Citrus Connection staff say next year that cost to local taxpayers for the new bus routes may be reduced in half, as the federal government, generally speaking, subsidizes bus mass transit costs by 50 percent. Citrus Connection staff are in the process of applying for federal funding now.
Lake Wales residents will be paying $25,130 of the first-year costs of the bus lines. Haines City residents are being asked to pay $13,527 in the first year; Dundee residents will be on the hook for $9,578 and Lake Hamilton residents are being asked to pay $11,036 for the first year of service.
With the addition, all Polk County residents, except those who live in Frostproof, can now take a bus to Orlando and beyond.
Total cost of mass transit for Lake Wales residents will be around $90,000 per year for mass transit in 2020, if mass transit costs as proposed are passed next fiscal year in September. The Frostproof City Council chose not to receive Citrus Connection service last fiscal year, citing the high cost of mass transit.
Northbound 17X bus traffic begins at the Health Department in Lake Wales, with stops at Eagle Ridge Mall, Dundee, Ridge Technical College and Haines City Plaza.
Route 16X travels between Haines City and Poinciana.
Route 18X travels between Haines City, Ridge High School, Posner Park and two stops in the Four Corners area — one at the Publix at Sand Mine Road and the northernmost stop on U.S. Highway 192, at Legacy Boulevard.
Exact times can be found on the Citrus Connection website.
Citrus Connection Executive Director Tom Phillips said 56 percent of bus riders use mass transit to get to work, that seniors use the bus to better age in place and for some students to get to school.
"What transportation really does for the citizens of the Ridge and for all of Polk County is that transportation breeds opportunity,” Phillips said.
Contact Charles A. Baker III at email@example.com.