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SunRail will haunt Central Florida

The new label will be StunRail, as the powers-that-be peel back the layers of this onion to discover the lemon that they have wrought/bought (sorry for the mixed metaphors).

Just imagine — eight trains per peak hour at full build zipping past Fairbanks Avenue (four in each direction), and from 12 to 24 buses per peak hour on New York Avenue (depending on the Lynx budget for feeder buses). Fifteen-minute headway for the trains won’t make much difference if the buses are only available at half-hour intervals — longer than the drive time to Orlando. Even if Winter Park opts out after the first seven years of “revenue operation” (May 1, 2021) and closes its stop for lack of a dedicated funding source, we will still have the trains crossing Fairbanks (but not the buses on New York Avenue). Irate motorists commuting to Orlando from Oviedo will stew over the added delay in their drive time through Winter Park. There will be renewed calls to four-lane Lakemont Avenue south of Aloma Avenue (Glenridge Way can’t be four-laned because of Baldwin Park and Windsong developments).

Then someone will be facing a call from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for return of their capital funding share for the Winter Park stop investment — which includes moving the east tracks closer to the west tracks and tearing off part of the existing canopy next to the Amtrak station. Who will that someone be? Whoever signed the full-funding grant agreement with FTA? The then-governor? The FDOT secretary or District 5 secretary? The then-chairman of the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission (Buddy Dyer will have retired as chairman)? Winter Park, because it signed an interlocal agreement with Orange County? We could argue that it shouldn’t be Winter Park, because it is not a “local government partner” with a seat (and vote) on the Commission.

It could be worse — FTA could deem that service is unsatisfactory, if both Winter Park and Maitland pull out, and demand all its funding back. The conditions for satisfactory service quality have never been spelled out. If the other Commission members fail to make up the shortfall in operation and maintenance that would be expected from the only two cities in Orange County (other than Orlando) that were expected individually to make contributions, then StunRail can be terminated. The house of cards would fold — unless FDOT rides to the rescue and converts more of its District 5 highway maintenance/improvement funds to StunRail life support. But FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad this week assured us that wouldn’t happen. He also said we should not expect a Legislature bailout such as Tri-Rail got, to make up for the revenue short fall so that they did not have to cut service and repay the $256 million to FTA for double tracking their route.

In the finger pointing that will then ensue, do you imagine that someone will say StunRail is illegal because there never was a voter referendum to approve this continuing expenditure, for the remaining 92 of 99 years? FDOT will have been paying the premium for seven years on the $200 million liability insurance to protect CSX (cost estimated at $2 million per year unless payout experience shows higher risk that warrants higher premiums), but now that falls to the Commission and the local government partners. If the Commission terminates StunRail and dissolves itself, could CSX sue us to continue to maintain the tracks it sold to us? Even as it runs the new double-stacked container flat-bed trailers through Winter Park for 12 hours per day? Could it say that any accident on the tracks FDOT bought involving, say, a truck plowing into a CSX or Amtrak train (such as the fatal crash this week in Nevada) is our liability, even if StunRail is disbanded?

Wait — there’s more. With hindsight, some Florida Constitution scholars could argue that parts of the deal are unconstitutional. There is a legal opinion paid for by the Legislature in 2008 that makes that argument regarding the liability insurance premiums we will pay to protect CSX — public payment for private gain. And the removal of the Taft rail yard, from south Orlando to Winter Haven, to help CSX assemble its Integrated Logistics Center (ILC), at a cost to the state of $23 million, could also be seen as a public payment for private gain. (CSX has stated repeatedly that it will build its ILC when it needs it — even if it has to pay the full cost, but the state helpfully promised $9 million toward access roadway and infrastructure improvements at the ILC.)

Mark your calendars — May 2021, when the fireworks start, if not before.

We live in interesting times.

—George McClure

Winter Park


Protect from mosquito-borne diseases

The Orange County Health Department (OCHD) would like to remind everyone to take precautions against mosquito-borne diseases especially with all the recent rain. Throughout the year, OCHD works with Orange County Mosquito Control, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and state universities, to monitor for the presence of illnesses carried by mosquitoes.

It is important for people to be aware that standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and can lead to an increase in the insects. There are simple measures to reduce the chances of contracting a mosquito-borne illness.

Orange County residents and visitors should remain diligent in protecting themselves from mosquito bites by following the “5 Ds,” which include:

  1. Drainage — Check around your home to rid the area of standing water, where mosquitoes can lay their eggs.

  2. DEET — When the potential exists for exposure to mosquitoes, repellents containing DEET are recommended. Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are other repellent options.

  3. Dress — Wear clothing that covers most of your skin.

  4. Dusk and Dawn — Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are most active.

  5. Drain standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying.

Discard: Old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren’t being used.

Empty and clean: Birdbaths and pets’ water bowls at least once or twice a week.

Protect: Boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don’t accumulate water.

Maintain: The water balance (pool chemistry) of swimming pools. Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.

Symptoms of mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile virus (WNV), St. Louis Encephalitis (SLE), and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) may include headache, fever, fatigue, dizziness, weakness and confusion. Physicians should contact their county health department if they suspect an individual may have a mosquito-borne illness. Department of Health (DOH) laboratories provide testing services for physicians treating patients with clinical signs of mosquito-borne illnesses.

For more information on mosquito-borne diseases, visit www.orchd.com or the DOH Environmental Health website at www.doh.state.fl.us/Environment/medicine/arboviral/index.html

—Dain R. Weister

Public Information Officer

Orange County Health Department