Hats off to the Volusia County Council for their courageous plunge back into SunRail territory, with council members’ recent endorsement of extending the system northward to DeLand.
That vote by the County Council was promptly followed by the Florida Department of Transportation’s announcement that it will continue to pay for the cost of SunRail for three more years, or until the new leg to DeLand is up and running.
Readers will recall that the DeLand station was always planned as the northern terminus of the SunRail commuter line, but construction between DeBary and DeLand was derailed by politics and cold feet.
Yes, SunRail operates at a deficit. Yes, Volusia County’s commitments involve scary large numbers with lots of zeros.
But many services and facilities built and operated by government for the good of the people cost a lot of money. Government, after all, is a mechanism for all of us to work collectively to improve our communities and quality of life.
There are many factors for elected officials and the public to weigh, in considering the SunRail investment. One factor familiar to many residents of West Volusia is the experience of driving on Interstate 4.
One trip down to Orlando is enough to convince us that there isn’t enough tax money or right of way in the world to keep I-4 current with Central Florida’s needs.
Volusia County’s share of extending SunRail to DeLand will be in the neighborhood of $10 million. That’s for roughly 12 miles. Let’s consider how many miles of two-lane urban roadway we could build for the same amount of money. Maybe 1.5 miles. That’s right — less than 2 miles.
Taxpayers already subsidize transportation in the form of building roads for private vehicles to use. There’s no less justification for subsidizing a form of public transportation.
In addition to the prospect of fewer cars on the road, which would improve lives and make us all safer, SunRail has the potential to boost DeLand’s economy and support a number of locally owned businesses, by giving Central Floridians a new way to reach the historic DeLand business district that has become an important tourist destination.
SunRail could also give DeLand-area residents access to higher-paying jobs in the Orlando area. There are many benefits.
As this project continues to make its way forward, we encourage the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission to study its data and consider operating SunRail not only as a commuter line, but for the benefit of the many retirees who would use it for day trips and other leisure travel.
Maybe that estimate of 200 riders per day a DeLand station is supposed to add can be increased, with careful management.
We also hope the Florida Department of Transportation will consider a continuing role in operating, and paying for, SunRail — even beyond the three years the agency has promised. After all, the FDOT doesn’t build a highway and then ask the localities along its path to take it from there.
We’re on board for SunRail. And we thank our local elected officials for seeing the economic wisdom of public transportation, too.