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Rail funded

Isaac Babcock

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While Winter Park waited for a response from Orange County's attorneys regarding amendments to an agreement over funding of the SunRail system, more than $66 million in high-speed rail funding arrived in the state's coffers May 27.

"It's going to be a big economic shot in the arm for Tampa and Orlando," Orange County Commissioner Bill Segal said. "It means a lot of progress for Central Florida."

That money was the first installment of a $1.3 billion federal contract earmarked for Florida's high-speed rail system, spanning between Orlando and Tampa.

The first installment of federal money will pay for part of the design and right-of-way purchasing for the rail system, which will run through the median of Interstate 4. The current version of the high-speed rail plan would not include a stop in Winter Park.

Meanwhile, Winter Park's City Commission is waiting for word from the county on which changes to a funding agreement between Winter Park and Orange County they'd be willing to accept.

"I haven't heard anything from them yet," Commissioner Beth Dillaha said.

According to Winter Park City Attorney Larry Brown, a meeting will be set up between the city and the county within the next few weeks to discuss the changes.

Some residents had previously expressed fear that the city may not get a rail stop at all if the two commissions couldn't come to an agreement.

At a May 24 meeting, when the City Commission voted to send an amended agreement to Orange County in hopes of modifying their current SunRail funding agreement, some residents discussed the possibility of rail improving property values along the corridor.

Segal said both systems will be a boon for Central Florida, and that he's pushing to keep Winter Park on track to be included with the SunRail system.

"I want to make sure Winter Park has a station," Segal said. "I know we'll work with them in any way we can to make them feel comfortable."

According to Rollins College professor Bruce Stephenson, connecting rail with the city could pay dividends in property values. He cited differences in property value changes in his own properties in Winter Park and in Portland, Oregon, which has a commuter rail system.

"You'll begin to see the money that we will make," he said, citing that real estate values near commuter rail systems dropped less and recovered more quickly than those that were not near commuter rail. "We have an opportunity here, looking toward the future."

He pleaded with the city to not sour its relations with Orange County and to go forward with including itself in commuter rail, recalling more than 100 years of Winter Park's history built around the railroad.

"We have an amazing history that we are apt to turn our back on," he said.

The city can opt out of SunRail after seven years.

Segal said he did not have any news on whether the county had any decisions about Winter Park's amendments to its agreement with the county for sharing funding costs and liabilities for SunRail. He did know what the county would not change in the agreement.

"We will not assume any payment for their station, and we're not going to assume liability for their station," Segal said. "They can opt out if they want."