A notice came in email announcing a community meeting for constituents from Rouse to Tanner Road. Why is this important? This is our first opportunity to share concerns specific to this area without being overshadowed by everything related to the rural area and Lake Pickett. For years, everything that happens out here seems to be related to the developments at Lake Pickett. While I care about preserving the rural area, quite frankly, I am tired of hearing about Lake Pickett and tired of watching our area take a back seat while a battle rages out there between developers and people who live in the rural area. Our previous commission said “Orange County is an urban county” and now our new commissioners said, “I was elected because of my environmental platforms”. The pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Commissioner Bonilla has been in office for almost a year and I want to hear what she has been doing for us, the people who live in this area. What is being done to solve our traffic problems between Rouse and N. Tanner especially on Tanner and McCulloch. Also, we can’t ignore the growth at UCF. How does Orange County plan on managing this growth? We cannot let the rural area drive our infrastructure; it needs to be built and maintained based on the needs of this area, not the rural area.
Please attend and express share your experiences and concerns!
Here is some background on both Commissioner Bonilla and the traffic problems that might be good to know before this meeting.
Anyone who has been following events in East Orange County knows that Commissioner Edwards was defeated by Commissioner Bonilla in the last election. However, Commissioner Edwards was successful in passing a motion called the Lake Pickett Text Amendment which some say led to his defeat because of intense opposition by organized groups opposing development east of the Econ and favoring rural protection. Because of the fight that has been going on in the rural area east of the Econ, our area has been severely affected and our traffic issues keep being pushed down the road, no pun intended, due to indecision. We are paralyzed!
The Lake Pickett Text Amendment that was passed allows development between the Econ and Chuluota Road. The development called “The Grow” was also passed and that development spans E-W from South Tanner to Chuluota Road and from N-S from Lake Pickett Road to Hwy 50. Lake Pickett North, known as Sustany, which spans E-W from the Sandhill Conservation area to Chuluota Road and N-S from the Seminole County line to Lake Pickett Road was not approved but is included as part of the Lake Pickett Text Amendment. You may also know that there is a law suit challenging the amendment that is ongoing. Commissioner Bonilla was originally part of this lawsuit as one of the plaintiffs but had to withdraw when she won the election so this should tell you how passionate she is to protect the rural area.
She lives on Lake Pickett just east of Chuluota Road so she has a personal interest in keeping the area rural. That’s fine but that area has nothing to do with us, the people who live just west of the Econ and around UCF. We have our own needs that Orange County can’t ignore any longer.
The Lake Pickett Text Amendment was opposed by almost everyone who lives in East Orange County both because of rural protection and increased traffic. No one wanted that area developed especially at the intensities proposed by the developers. So a few years ago a few people (about 15) came together at a house on South Tanner and formed a group called Save Orange County (SOC). I was among the group as was Emily Bonilla. I guess you could say those original 15 were the founders of SOC. As we became organized we created a web site, bought signs and shirts and stood on Hwy 50 showing the signs to drivers stuck in traffic. At that time we were focused on the traffic problems because that is where most people felt the pain and they reacted the way we wanted. After SOC grew and became established, the focus of the group turned more towards rural protection using traffic as the catalyst to gain support. I am sure you have the seen the signs, “10,000 more cars!”. Emily Bonilla stayed with SOC until she broke off on her own. I also left SOC to focus mainly on traffic and created FixMyRoadway.
Based on this history as well as Emily Bonilla’s candidate website, we know she is very passionate about rural protection and this is one of her primary priorities if not the highest priority and far surpasses traffic concerns in our area.
How does she feel about our traffic problems. Again we look at history. From personal experience and knowing Emily Bonilla, I believe she wants no change at all to the rural area roads. This also includes the urban area between UCF/Research Park and the Econ which I call the DMZ Zone. Even though this area is not in the rural area, I believe she thinks that any changes to these roads will increase traffic on the rural roads so I believe she is opposed to any improvements to the roads in this area. But we need relief and there are improvements to this area that could dramatically reduce traffic on both N. Tanner and McCulloch. One is to widen the two lane section of McCulloch to 4-lane but that would need a conversation with Commissioner Dallari in Seminole County as McCulloch is on the county line. Commissioner Dallari is opposed to any widening of McCulloch if it includes crossing the Econ at McCulloch. Commissioner Bonilla is also opposed to this crossing. He might also be opposed to 4-laning McCulloch all-together but that is a conversation that needs to take place. To my knowledge Commissioner Bonilla has not met with Commissioner Dallari to discuss McCulloch Road. If she has met with him would be a good questions to ask and if not, why.
Another option is to build a new roadway from the end of Research Parkway to N. Tanner which is an existing Duke Energy utility easement and is on the Orange County Long Range Transportation plan. No houses would be taken and it would be a very straight one mile road that would cost 5-10 million. That cost is very small compared to the benefit it would provide. But this would require consent by Research Park. To my knowledge, Commissioner Bonilla has not reached out to Research Park to discuss this option. Another good question to ask our commissioner. This road would dramatically cut traffic on N. Tanner as well as McCulloch by providing another E-W conduit to Alafaya Trail. It also provides a south entrance to UCF and a north entrance to Research Park. People who live in the DMZ zone could use this road to bicycle to UCF giving an alternative mode of transportation instead of going all the way up to McCulloch adding miles to the trip. This roadway opens up so many possibilities, it just doesn’t make any sense not to consider it. But I think in the mind of Commissioner Bonilla, it adds cars to the rural roads of Lake Pickett and S. Tanner which she opposes. Research Park is also opposed because they say it adds pass-through traffic.
Knowing the passion of Commissioner Bonilla to protect the rural area, I decided to go to the Board of County Commission (BCC) in March to express my concerns. Below is my public comment. After my public comment, Commissioner Bonilla spoke (minute 3:30) and said that the INVEST money (38 million) that was allocated to East Orange County would be used to build the Richard Crotty Parkway starting at 436. This is extremely significant as the INVEST money was allocated to East Orange County to fix our roads in our area, not over by 436. Many subdivisions with thousands of people have moved in over the past 30 years with no road improvements. This money would have helped fix some of these deficiencies. For example, McCulloch and parts of N. Tanner are rated “F”. They can’t get any worse yet our commissioner re-allocated funds that would have helped fix these roads and used them elsewhere. With no money and no plan, the roads will remain as-is long into the foreseeable future and only get worse as traffic increases.
We also know how Commissioner Bonilla feels about the 408 extension based on a presentation she made to MetroPlan recently as well as numerous comments during board meetings and opposing motions made during these meetings. I have attached the presentation. (Click this link to view the presentation). As you can see by the bullet point, “Need to balance response to rapid growth and respect rural boundary”, rural protection is at the heart of this opposition. She feels the 408 extension will lead to more development and isolate Bithlo. If you want to know more about the 408 extension, read my recent blog here.
Another example is this. A few months ago, Orange County traffic staff came to the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) and asked for revisions to the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). One revision was to add a collocated state roadway project along Hwy 50 which allows for an expressway along Hwy 50 (see map). This had already been approved by the BCC a while ago but this vote was simply to approve the line on the map. Commissioner Bonilla was the only commissioner who voted no. Another signal she is very much opposed to the 408 expressway and places rural protection above our traffic concerns.
I watch every BCC meeting on Orange TV and I have not seen Commissioner Bonilla bring up our traffic issues other than to oppose changes in our area. She told me after one of my public comments that she was diligently working on the traffic issues in East Orange County. Another good question to ask, what does that mean?
Below is a video of a Planning and Zoning meeting where the District 5 representative appointed by Commissioner Bonilla tried to remove the collocated toll road on Hwy 50. No other commissioner seconded the motion so it failed. When the motion did pass, the commissioner voted against it while all other commissioners voted in favor. A good question to ask our commissioner is why is she and her representative so against the 408 extension.
Below you will hear Commissioner Bonilla say she is against the 408 extension past the Econ. The traffic experts and everyone I speak to sees value in the road because of the congestion on Hwy 50 as well as what we know will come in the future. It takes 7 years at a minimum to build a roadway and this road is critical to our future infrastructure needs. Again, what reason other than rural protection would inconvenience thousands of commuters that need to use this roadway to get to work everyday.
Based on this history, I believe Commissioner Bonilla is opposed to the 408 extension because it might bring more development to the area and add more cars to the rural roadways.
The 408 extension will bring relief to the DMZ Zone by allowing drivers heading downtown an easy path around Hwy 50. During Hurricane Irma, many people were told to evacuate and go north. Expressways were jammed with cars crawling hundreds of miles. One very important reason for this roadway is an evacuation route in case of catastrophes such as hurricanes. I do not understand why Commissioner Bonilla would oppose this road given it circumvents Bithlo to the south and will do more to keep traffic off the rural roads than any other roadway. It also benefits thousands of commuters who want to get around the 9 lights on Hwy 50.
Another issue I have is bicycle and pedestrian safety in the area surrounding UCF. Florida is one of the worst states in the country and this needs to change. UCF has applied for a bronze bike friendly designation but even if they are awarded that honor, they cannot go any further without help from Orange County. The roads surrounding UCF are not safe for bicycles so UCF students are discouraged from riding bikes to school. If we could get one student out of 10 to use a bike instead of a car, can you imagine the reduction in cars on the road. 50% of the cars going down McCulloch go to UCF. Any reduction would be welcome. A good questions for Commissioner Bonilla is where do you stand on bike commuting and what are you doing to promote it and make our roads safe for cyclists.
If you live between Rouse and Tanner, this is your opportunity to talk about issues that concern us while not being overshadowed by rural protection. My issue is traffic and I want to hear what my commissioner is doing to fix it.