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Orange Co. transportation survey finds residents want more of everything

Except congestion and commuting times — people want less of those.

While Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is still a long way from getting approval for his proposed penny increase in the county sales tax, area residents have no shortage of things they want the resulting revenue spent on.

When Demings made his formal pitch to the Orange County Commission on Tuesday he also released results of an ongoing survey that the county has been conducting over the past few months as it has held about 200  meetings around the county testing the mood for a sales tax increase and seeking the wish-lists of residents for transportation improvements.

That unscientific survey of 10,698 residents overwhelmingly said building a bigger and better mass transit system — buses and commuter trains — should be a top priority. That result should encourage Demings, who proposed the tax increase last year in large part to fund expansion and improvements of the region’s bus system, LYNX, and commuter rail, SunRail. Mass transit improvements were named as a top priority by 59% of the survey’s respondents, far and away the number one choice.

Yet, eight other transportation improvements were named as a top priority by at least 30% of those who completed the survey. They include maintaining and repairing existing roads (50%), improving traffic signal timing (42%), improving SunRail (42%), widening existing roads (38%), improving intersections (37%), increasing pedestrian safety (34%), improving LYNX bus service (32%), and increasing the number of bike and pedestrian paths (30%). Building more sidewalks and bike lanes got 29%.

Demings’ presentation of his findings to the Orange County Commission Tuesday was received with mixed reactions. He intends to bring a formal proposal before the commission on April 7 and get the penny sales tax proposal, with a fairly detailed spending list, on the November ballot.

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He first proposed the penny sales tax to promote transportation last May, decrying the bus and rail systems as inadequately funded and almost shamefully underserving the region, with an era coming when traffic and transportation problems were expected to only get worse because of the county’s steady, high-paced population growth. After his first state of the county speech, at which he also called for a comprehensive housing program, he said, “Orange County is experiencing tremendous growth and it is projected that our population will grow by a net of 1,000 new residents each week. If we won’t, if we don’t do something now, our housing and transportation issues will only become more challenging.”

In August, at the first of several regional town hall meetings Demings hosted, he contended that only a sales tax increase could provide the kind of money needed, about $6o0 million a year in new revenue for buses, trains, roads, streets, and bike and pedestrian paths. But he also insisted he wanted to hear more Orange County residents’ thoughts about transportation.

According to the survey:

— 78% said traffic congestion was the worst problem.

— 88% said automobiles are their primary form of transportation.

— 45% said their daily commutes to work take more than 30 minutes, and 8% of them said it takes more than an hour.

— 74% said they never ride LYNX buses. Just 4% said they ride buses daily.

— 64% said they never ride SunRail trains. Just 2% said they ride the trains daily.

The survey also allowed people to offer unstructured comments. Those that came in included:

“Expand Sunrail to the east side of Orange County.”

“We need to have twin focuses: transport for lower-income riders [and] transport to remove tourists from roads.”

“Will not vote for the tax if it includes roads. It should ONLY apply to LYNX, SunRail and mass transit.”

“I oppose the proposed sales tax increase. Public Transportation is simply not workable given this region’s fundamental layout. It is a waste of taxpayer dollars to continue to fund public transportation projects that are not optimally used and which cannot be optimally used because of the layout of this County. Focus instead on improving traffic management on the roads.”

“Traffic lights are poorly timed. Schools buses should not be able to stop major roads. Move the bus stops to better location and better train the bus drivers. Pot holes are not getting fixed. Pedestrian crosswalks should only be located at street lights. Cops should focus on stopping cars that do not stop at red light before making a right hand turn. Jaywalking should be enforced.”

“Do not increase the taxes.”

“Biking in Orlando needs to be safer.”

“I’d pay 2 cents more to improve transportation in Orange County. Thank you!”

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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