Tokyo-level density to go right across the street from one of I-Drive’s seven Golden Corrals
I am personally starting to grow tired of Orlando this, Orlando that….”oh have you heard about what they’re doing in Orlando?”. Yes. Give it a rest. Okay. Maybe it’s more envy than anything. After all, Orlando seems to be on the fast-track (pun, tied in below, intended) to become the gleaming metropolis of Florida. Those who know me as the Tampa man that I am can see me green with envy, watching from eighty miles west down I-4. Watching as Tampa embarks on one of the biggest roadway infrastructure CF’s ever witnessed north of Miami. Watching as its main arterial freeway is choked from eight lanes down to two for construction, only to ultimately allocate for five hundred lanes with an anticipated completion of some indefinite period in the distant future. Orlando is about to get the ball rolling on a similar expansion of I-4 next year…but they’re taking steps in the right direction elsewhere. Just how much is going on in Orlando, seemingly all of the sudden?
Sultry in orange…the look of SunRail’s rolling stock
The Wizzardring World of Harry Potter phase two, of course! Diagon Alley! That is, of course, the only thing an “Orlando” search term currently queries. For anyone with their head not up their own posterior, and/or who cares about more than three-hour lines in 137 degree temperatures, there is of course SunRail. The second major commuter rail system in the Sunshine State, following South Florida’s Tri-Rail (which opened over twenty years ago). SunRail opened its first phase back on May 1 and follows the CSX/Amtrak R.O.W. from a station at Sand Lake Road (in Pine Castle, not horribly far from MCO airport) to DeBary. Extensions by 2017 will draw it south to Kissimmee and Poinciana and north to DeLand. As of now, it services Downtown Orlando (bringing rail life back to Church Street for the first time in decades), Winter Park, Maitland and the Longwood/Lake Mary Area. It also directly links to two major medical centers (Orlando Health and Florida Hospital), a critical piece of the puzzle considering the area’s burgeoning healthcare industry. The rolling stock is quite handsome as well, if I do say so myself. Naturally, the naysayers were doubting the system’s success from the day it was first proposed. The first few weeks of service were fare free, a sort of soft opening. Once revenue collection began, there was an obvious drop-off in ridership. BUT, the current ridership figures actually remain slightly above what FDOT had forecasted for this period. The anti-rail blockheads have their feet so far down their throats now, all they can point to are the three vehicle-locomotive collisions at crossings that have occurred in the last few months. Us Floridians aren’t used to stopping for that ding-ding and those flashing red lights when a choo-choo is chuggin’ along. And yes, I can joke as much as I please because no one was injured. In short time, wheels are already turning to get going on development of Phase Two for the system.
Orange locomotives. I’m beginning to see a pattern…
Well…is that all that’s going on? Nosiree. Florida East Coast Railway’s “All Aboard Florida” is also the cat’s meow of the Florida rail scene. While the name isn’t the most practical, this is going to be a dramatic recharge for America’s passenger intercity rail game. The country’s first “major” privately owned-and-operated passenger rail system since Amtrak sucked the last breath of life out of Penn Central in 1977. This transit titan of a system would…okay, I’ll stop being pessimistic…will run from Miami to Orlando. And…maybe….God willing….someday to Tampa. It will use FEC’s existing R.O.W. from Miami to Brevard County, then somehow get itself a corridor to get itself to Orlando, since railcars don’t take to running on wet swampland particularly well. For that link, FEC wants to borrow $405 million (of the total $1.5 billion cost). So, no the project is not entirely privately funded. Stop points would be large, to-be-built facilities in Miami, Ft Lauderdale and Palm Beach….all leading to a bodacious inter-modal center at Orlando International Airport. But…..what about all those fine little towns in between? What about “The Treasure Coast” and The Space Coast? Nope. No trains for you. Martin, St Lucie, Indian River and Brevard Counties will bear the brunt (traffic congestion, noise, safety and environmental concerns) of frequent rail service without the obvious advantage of being served by the systems. Hence, they’re rather bitter towards the proposal and have vowed to do all they can to stop it. They are self-declared “not all aboard” with All Aboard Florida. Cute, eh? But the trackage is FEC’s own property. Private industry FTW.
They clearly don’t have the funds to complete this system, given it’s about to derail
Alright, alright so lots of trains in Orlando. Anything else…? Yes! More trains! But not just any trains…MAGLEV TRAINS. The mode of the future! And yes, it warrants all caps. Maglev is that downright nifty medium of transit one always hears of in Japan. A powerful electromagnetic current is propelled down a monorail beam. Souped-up magnets beneath the vehicles latch to it (as magnets often do) and are jettisoned along the track. The magnetic effect elevates the cars, eliminating friction thus allowing them to go at super-duper-fast speeds. And Maglev may be coming to Orlando. Another private venture recently approved by FDOT, to run all the way between Orlando Airport and the Orlando Convention Center. Over 350 miles per hour is the only acceptable speed to traverse that staggeringly long distance of a few miles. The system would also be privately owned-and-operated. While it has the tentative red-tape green light from FDOT, all the money to fund it remains invisible. It would carry a capital cost of nearly $400 million and a top speed of only 50 miles per hour. So why the expensive and flashy Maglev medium, instead of a more practical and cost-effective people mover system? To make a point, presumably. The first Maglev outside of the Far East, right here in the U S of A. Brought to you by American Maglev Industries. The corridor itself makes sense. The mode? Not so much. Lofty and ambitious, at best.
Lot’s of choo-choo’s chuggin’ away in “the 407″. I’ve dithered on about these projects for so long that I’ve allowed little time for everything else. Out of reasons of utility and laziness, I won’t go into detail about some of the major commercial developments proposed for Orange County. One development slated for International Drive looks as if it was transported from Tokyo. 160,210 square feet of retail, 48,418 square feet of meeting rooms, 1,253 hotel rooms in two towers, not to mention an ice-skating rink and revolving restaurant. Some of the other projects proposed for the area are equally impressive. The expansive, mixed-use, high-density, urban aesthetic may finally transform it from a cheap, tacky, tourist, parking lot, gift shop, Sizzler buffet wasteland. Another 7.3 acre site near the Amway Center will be locale of a major mixed-use development, as the market prepares to welcome its new MLS soccer club. 2013 generated a total of $5 billion in property sales for Central Florida, according to the Orlando Business Journal.
And we harken back to the I-4 expansion noted earlier, that will allow the option of tolled-express lanes to alleviate traffic congestion. Lots of progress in Orlando this year. Of all the growth and development, the frozen butterbeer in The Wizzardring World of Harry Potter still can’t be beat.