Osceola County Manager Don Fisher has told members of the W192 Development Authority he plans to use $3.5 million of the district's tax revenue for a federal application to add mass transit on the tourist corridor.
Fisher informed the authority members last week before presenting his budget recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners. Implementing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on W192 is one of the authority's top priorities, and it lays the foundation for a future light rail system.
The county, MetroPlan Orlando and the FDOT are ready to submit a $7 million application to the federal government to begin designing the system.
"We have been working for years to have BRT on the corridor with its own dedicated lane," Fisher said. "The timing for us to move forward with the application is now."
FDOT would pay half of the application costs, leaving Osceola County to make up the remaining $3.5 million expense. If the project wins federal approval, the state and federal government would pick up 75 percent of the project costs, estimated at $56 million for the W192 segment.
Magic Place Project Manager Hector Lizasuain said BRT on the tourist corridor will provide a huge benefit, not just for property owners and developers, but for people who drive on the corridor everyday. "There's a lot of support for this -- not just in Osceola, but regionally," he said.
Both Magic Place, which is expected to break ground this summer, and Margaritaville Resort now under construction, are planning to incorporate transit stations within their projects. Developers can gain parking credits in exchange for building transit amenities.
"At the end of our project, we will probably have 2,100 employees," Lizasuain said. "A lot of them will be dependent on public transportation. So our employees will have that opportunity to use a low-cost way to get to work that's reliable and takes cars off the road."
Lynx currently offers BRT service in Downtown Orlando through its Lymmo circulators. Fisher said the W192 system would resemble portions of International Drive that have dedicated transit lanes, where buses can avoid traffic lights and other congestion.
"Going forward into the future, this dedicated lane could be converted into a light rail line," Fisher said.
Lynx consultant Vanasse Hangen Brustline Inc. completed a mass transit study in 2013 that recommended BRT along U.S.192 from the Polk County line, through Kissimmee's Vine Street Redevelopment District and east to the new Florida Tech Farm. The system would have connections to SunRail and to Walt Disney World.
BRT uses a variety of infrastructure and technological improvements to
improve the travel time and reliability of bus service. These could include exclusive running-ways, queue jumps and/or transit-signal-priority at intersections. Bus wait times are typically 15 minutes or less.
BRT routes typically have more bus stops and are closer together than a traditional local bus route. BRT stations typically are more developed than standard bus stops, and include enhancements such as digital bus trackers, sheltered waiting areas and pay stations.
Osceola County is also in the process of drafting design standards for transit oriented development districts around the new SunRail stations and along W192.
While W192 Development Authority members support the plan for BRT on the corridor, some were disappointed to learn the application would take more than half of the anticipated $6 million in tax revenue available to the district.
Fisher said that even though the district's tax revenue is expected to increase by $1 million in 2017 (up from $5 million), the authority's $2.5 million budget would not change. The proposal leaves less money available for other capital expenditures, particularly the sign replacement grants.
The development authority allocated $3.5 million in this year's budget for the sign replacement grants, and so far it has approved 50 new signs. Executive Director David Buchheit said some unspent funds could be carried over into the next fiscal year, and the authority could put its demolition grant and facade grant programs on hold for 2017 to emphasize the sign program.
"We'll still be able to do all the projects we planned to do," Buchheit said.