News & Reviews News Wire County commissioners to vote on plan to help fund ‘Sunshine Corridor’ rail project

County commissioners to vote on plan to help fund ‘Sunshine Corridor’ rail project

By | September 5, 2023

Universal proposal would create community development district to help fund improvements including new station

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Yellow and white passenger train at station
A qualification run leaves Brightline’s Orlando International Airport station on June 22, 2023. Officials in Orange County, Fla., are being asked to approve a development district to help fund the project to connect Brightline’s line at the airport to the SunRail commuter route. Bob Johnston

ORLANDO, Fla. — Officials in Florida’s Orange County will be asked to approve a special development district to help pay for an 11-mile rail line that would link Brightline and SunRail service to Orlando International Airport, the county’s convention center, and theme parks, the Orlando Sentinel reports in a paywalled article.

Universal City Development Partners, which is affiliated with the Universal theme parks in the Orlando area, is asking Orange County commissioners to create the Shingle Creek Transit and Utility Community Development District. The district would cover 719 acres, most of which involves Universal-owned land for an under-construction theme park, Epic Universe. Hilton is the only other property owner in the proposed district.

The board is scheduled to vote on the request Oct. 10 after a public hearing.

Property assessments from the district and the sale of tax-exempt bonds would be used to fund $174 million in public infrastructure. That includes a commitment of $125 million by Universal and other business for the “Sunshine Corridor” rail project [see “Orlando businesses pledge $125 million …,” Trains News Wire, May 6, 2022]. The commitment includes land and other support for a station currently estimated to cost $93 million.

A 2022 report from the Florida Department of Transportation said the full project could take 10 years and $6 billion to complete [see “Brightline, SunRail ‘Sunshine Corridor’ project could cost $6 billion …,” Trains News Wire, Sept. 6, 2022]. The corridor is envisioned as a three-phase project: first connecting the airport to SunRail’s north-south corridor, then from that connection to the International Drive area including the Orange County Convention Center and theme parks, and finally with a Brightline extension to Tampa, Fla.

Community Development Districts, or CDDs, are allowed under Florida law to cover the costs of growth. They are widely used; the Sentinel reports there are about 935 in the state.

One thought on “County commissioners to vote on plan to help fund ‘Sunshine Corridor’ rail project

  1. I-Drive connectivity has been issue #1 in Orlando for many years. Monorails, Maglevs, etc. have been proposed but die due to the costs involved. Plus Disney has fought any effort to have any kind of connectivity that they don’t control and therefore uses buses to shuttle people to/from I-Drive & the airport.

    Universal Theme Parks is making a large investment in the I-Drive District through their investment in the Epic Universe behind the convention center. During the Brightline to Tampa talks, Universal put their money where their mouth is and is donating land they own for a Brightline station to be built right across from the convention center and Epic Universe.

    By tying SunRail to the “system”, this would allow theme park workers to live in less expensive areas and still reach their employment without adding yet more cars.

    Disney will still get service through a Brightline station in Kissimmee across I-4 from their park, but knowing Disney, they will still bus patrons over, because as they say “they own the experience” (right).

    When its all said and done, it will take more cars off of I-4 between the I-Drive District and the Disney properties. I-4 north from Vineland-Apopka back to Sand Lake is a disaster from 430-730PM as people head back to their hotels in their rentals.

    Technically tourists from Tampa could take the Brightline in the morning, spend the day at Epic Universe and take Brightline back to Tampa after dinner.

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