The train is coming. Within a few short years, the Florida SunRail may find its way hurtling across the Sunshine State. There is no doubt that this could be a tremendous addition to Florida’s infrastructure, thanks to the benefits that such an advanced and contemporary public transportation system can offer. Unfortunately, the students of Rollins College may not be able to gain from this approaching advancement.
The controversy is at Winter Park City Hall. Although it has been confirmed that the SunRail will in fact pass through Winter Park, the city is stuck debating over whether or not to allow a train station to be built here as offi cials are afraid of what this might mean for Winter Park.
One problem is some people do not want the added development the SunRail would bring; they fear that any new influx of activity will bring with it noise, pollution and congestion. The further accessibility of Winter Park via the SunRail also brings opposition from some residents who fear higher crime rates would be inevitable as the system would open the city to people from lower-income areas.
Supporters of the movement argue otherwise. Professor of Political Science Richard Foglesong has attended meetings and rallies covering the issues of the SunRail and explained, “The idea that Winter Park is going to be destroyed in a flood of crime and so forth from the surrounding area is ridiculous. Whatever effects do occurs as a result of this rail line, the benefi ts will far outweigh the costs. And that applies for both Winter Park and whatever low-income areas are involved.”Foglesong’s reasoning is supported by another argument that is holding up City Hall. One of the conditions of building a station for the Sun- Rail is that after seven years of operation, the cost of maintenance for the station will transfer from the State of Florida to the City of Winter Park. In order to pay for that, the city would need to spend those seven years aiding in the development of a “railway infrastructure,” a conglomeration of businesses that will support and bring jobs to the area around the station. “The additional stores will bring new people into the area, guarantee the viability of the station, as well as improve the atmosphere and environment of Winter Park,” Foglesong added “If [those opposing SunRail] would only ask the businesses of Park Street and Orange Avenue, then they would find that nearly everyone is in support of development. It is only the ‘preservationist’ political minority that is afraid.” Without the income from that development, the only other way to pay for a station is to raise taxes, which is creating opposition across the board.
With the way things look, the SunRail is going to happen. Beginning collaborations between Amtrak, CSX and the Florida Department of Transportation have already been established, and it is hoped that the train will be running by 2015 at the latest. The issue for Rollins students, and why they should be concerned, remains the accessibility of the station to students.
“Imagine you can go downtown and get smashed but be able to make it back okay. Or imagine the possibility of being able to travel easily and efficiently to school. Winter Park housing is expensive. It would be far easier to imagine an enclave of sorts, a community of students in affordable housing, capable of making the short commute to college,” Foglesong said. “The benefits are endless, but we might end up missing the train.”