POLK COUNTY – On Aug. 5, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto (D-Winter Haven) met with a group of east Polk County mayors and commissioners to request local resolutions in support of his federal efforts to extend the SunRail commuter train line from Poinciana, where it currently ends, into Haines City, Lake Alfred, Auburndale and Lakeland in the coming years.
“If we do nothing, east Polk County will be left behind,” Soto said. “All of these classic downtowns will be left out of this connectivity. It’s a big concern of mine to make sure our communities there are getting the benefits of these projects moving forward.”
Making something such as this happen will still require a lot of work at the local, state and federal levels, Soto explained.
He said that his staff is in preliminary discussion with Florida Department of Transportation staff to use existing FDOT funding to pay for a ridership study — a study that would estimate how many people may use commuter rail in Polk County.
A ridership study would be one of the requirements to try and get federal funding for such a project in the coming years.
Soto said more people have used SunRail services in Osceola County than were estimated in the associated ridership study. He further stated that if a ridership study for Polk County estimates enough riders would use the line, it is possible that federal funds could finance half of the total project costs.
Soto added that there is federal bipartisan support for infrastructure projects such as this.
Soto said his staff have also reached out to state legislators representing Polk County about this project. State Senator Kelli Stargel and State Representatives Sam Killebrew and Mike LaRosa have also expressed support of this project and will work to secure state funding.
Virgin Train USA Vice President of Government Affairs Bob O’Malley spoke during the SVN Sanders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate I4 Commercial Corridor Conference June 28 at Florida Polytechnic University. O’Malley said a high-speed rail station would be built in Lakeland in the coming years. Soto said his goal is to connect SunRail lines to the Virgin Train USA high-speed rail station in Lakeland in the coming years.
Dundee and Lake Wales residents may benefit from this plan because Soto said a bus-only lane may be added to U.S. 27 so that mass transportation could be taken from downtown Lake Wales to points all over the county in the coming years.
Lake Wales City Manager Ken Fields said he may be placing a resolution in support of this project on the Lake Wales City Commission agenda in the coming weeks.
Deric Feacher, the City Manager of Haines City, said a similar resolution may be placed on their agenda sometime in September.
Under this scenario, the City of Winter Haven would not get a high-speed rail or a SunRail stop. The Amtrak station and Citrus Connection buses are other mass transportation options in Winter Haven to connect with future rail options. Citrus Connection buses already connect communities such Bartow and Fort Meade to Lakeland.
Virgin Trains USA high-speed rail already connects West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. High-speed rail is currently being built from Miami to the Orlando International Aiport,with an in-between stop at Fort Pierce.
Eventually Orlando and Tampa may be connected with stops at the Orlando attractions and Lakeland, O’Malley said recently.
Contact Charles A. Baker III at email@example.com.