Yesterday (10/17/2018) the signal light at McCulloch and Worchester went live. This has been a long time coming and there were many people that took part in making it happen so this post honors all the people involved and tells the story behind the signal light. The video below might seem boring to some but it is a glorious sight to anyone trying to get out of University Estates.
Here’s the story:
Several years ago traffic started to build on McCulloch Road and people in University Estates were concerned for the safety of the residents. It was becoming harder and harder to get out onto McCulloch safely. So there was a discussion at a board meeting and we decided to ask Orange County for a traffic study to determine if we were eligible for a traffic light. That was in 2012, the board members at the time were Carl, RJ, Dean, Ed and Maryam. I think listing the board members each time we tried to get the traffic light is important as McCulloch Road came up as a discussion item at many meetings and everyone was involved at some level. The board decided to make the request. Below is a list of the board members that have served since 2009. As you can see there are some people who have served many years on the board.
But on a side note, I also want to say there have been many, many volunteers over the years that have served in different capacities and given many hours as volunteers. Thank you to the 70 people on the list below and to those who volunteered and aren’t listed. These are only those I remember. Sadly as you scan the list you might see some names of people who are no longer with us. We remember them and keep their memories in our minds and hearts. Two that jump out at me are Jim Ireland who was on the monitoring committee as was Evelyn Ewald. Think about it, almost 20% of the community has volunteered in some way and that is only the ones listed. How many are not on this list and have made a contribution to the betterment of our community.
Back to the signal light story.
The results of the study came back and the county said we didn’t meet the requirements for a light so we thought it was over. Orange County counts the number of cars on McCulloch road but also the number of cars entering and leaving University Estates and Madison Park. Even though the traffic volume on McCulloch far exceeded the volume needed, traffic from University Estates and Madison Park wasn’t enough to warrant a light so it was denied. You can view the traffic study from 2012 here.
So that was that until about 2 years later when Dean Haylett took it up again with the county and asked for another traffic count. Again the numbers came back with enough volume on McCulloch but still not enough from University Estates and Madison Park. We were denied and again thought that was the end of it. The problem with volume coming out of University Estates and Madison Park is, both of these communities are completely built out so there was no chance of ever achieving the volume needed. That was 2014 so board members were Cory, RJ, Dean, Mike and Maryam.
The traffic study was conducted in early January of 2014 and while the study was going on, Steve Herdt wrote this email asking why Orange County was only counting the east entrances. It was Steve who had the idea to count both entrances. Here is the email exchange:
From: Steve Herdt
Date: January 12, 2014 at 9:55:41 PM EST
To: “Richard Mueller, President, University Estates POA”
Subject: RE: Orange County Traffic Monitoring
Why are they only monitoring the west entrance/exit. More than half the traffic exits the east entrance. Their counts will not reflect the real problems we have getting onto McCulloch.
Date: Sun, 12 Jan 2014 18:00:48 -0800
My response was:
Sent: Monday, January 13, 2014, 2:11 PM
Subject: RE: Orange County Traffic Monitoring
Good point. I had not thought of asking the hoses be placed at both entrances. I was focused on a light at the west entrance because it is equi-distant from Lockwood and Tanner but the traffic does count at the other entrance.
I will call Ruby Rozier and explain this to her and ask about it.
Thanks for the input.
I can’t remember calling Ruby Rozier but if I did, nothing came of it until 2016 and that’s when it really gets interesting.
You might have heard about the fight going on to protect the rural area and Lake Pickett. This fight has been going on a long time. I remember going to an affair out on Rybolt property years ago when a development was proposed with a bridge across the Econ. This was long before Sustany. That failed. Why am I talking about Rybolt, Lake Pickett, Sustany and the rural area. It is because the politics surrounding the rural area is the catalyst that got us our light.
You might know that Commissioner Edwards was hell-bent on getting both The Grow and Sustany approved. The Grow was approved but is in the middle of a lawsuit right now which has frozen any traffic improvements to the area. That’s a discussion for another time but something happened during all that which helped. The board members in 2016 who were involved were Maryam, RJ, Ed, John and Taylor.
Commissioner Boyd who was the district 1 Commissioner came out to our community to talk to us and get our feedback on traffic, the rural area and other concerns. Some of you may remember the meeting at the clubhouse under the overhang. Ask yourself, why would a commissioner from the other side of the county come all the way over to University Estates. Commissioner Boyd was trying to find a solution for Sustany and how this could work for everyone. I know Commissioner Boyd and he is the ultimate mediator. When I talk to him, I tell him that; he is always trying to find solutions to problems that work for everyone.
When Commissioner Boyd was here we talked to him about McCulloch and asked him about the idea of using both entrances counts. He thought it was a brilliant idea so that’s exactly what we did. When we got the results, we had the counts to warrant a signal light. Wonderful! I’m sure he had a hand in helping with the light and moving it through the system for us.
But the story doesn’t end here.
Before any signal light is installed it must be approved by the Board of County Commissioners and usually that means that the commissioner for that district bring it to the board for approval or put it on what is called the consent agenda which just means it is approved with a bunch of other items at one time by the board. They are lower cost items that are not really worthy of a full board discussion. Not saying a $250,000 signal light is a lower cost item but it is to the BCC who deal with millions everyday. The commissioners have a chance to review the consent agenda before the meeting and have the ability to pull the item if they wish.
By this time Commissioner Edwards was out of office and Commissioner Bonilla was elected to the office. Mayor Jacobs knew about the signal light because of many public comments such as the one below.
Mayor Jacobs put the signal light on the consent agenda and brought it to the board for approval. During that meeting which occurred on 4/11/2017 and is shown in the video below, Commissioner Bonilla pulled the signal light off the consent agenda for discussion. My heart skipped a beat when she did that. Commissioner Bonilla’s argument was concern about the traffic on N. Tanner and McCulloch and the impact the light would have on these roads. A very valid concern that I will talk about below. If you don’t watch the whole video, watch around minute 5:30 to hear what was said about capacity on McCulloch. After a discussion that included the mayor, commissioners and traffic staff which included light timing and these roads being over capacity, Commissioner Bonilla made the motion in favor of the light which was approved. That secured the light and funding. We were home free and it was just a matter of time.
Let’s talk about traffic volume.
If you watched the video you will hear references to the volume on McCulloch Road at minute 5:30. The traffic study for our light from 2012 shows daily average volume of 15,000 cars per day. A few months ago, I asked what the daily volume is on McCulloch and it is 23,000 cars. Since 2012, in just 6 short years, the traffic volume has increased 8,000 cars per day. To put this in perspective, a 2-lane road’s maximum capacity is about 15,000 cars per day so McCulloch is 8,000 cars over capacity. 23,000 cars is comparable to a 4-lane road that is at capacity.
Folks, I hate to break this to you but our signal light is great and will help us safely exit University Estates onto McCulloch but it does nothing to help McCulloch traffic and traffic will back up. I was out at 8 am one day watching traffic and I saw traffic back up from Lockwood all the way through our light and cars were blocking cars exiting University Estates onto McCulloch and no one was moving. I took a video of it. There is nothing that can be done about this until a regional traffic study is done on this whole area which was supposed to be conducted and finished in 2017. But because of the lawsuit that Commissioner Bonilla was a party to until she became our commissioner and 5 other individuals who want to protect the rural area, everything to improve traffic in this area is frozen in time. Commissioner Bonilla is still involved as evidenced by her public comment in Tallahassee before the Florida Cabinet. Nothing can happen until that is resolved and right now, the 5 individuals have appealed to the appellate court and if they lose there, they have vowed to go to the Florida supreme court. While this is a noble endeavor, it is having a very detrimental effect on people who live in subdivisions in this area on the west side of the Econ and east of UCF.
Compounding this is River Cross which is a proposed subdivision in Seminole County just east of the Econ. A fellow by the name of Chris Dorworth lost a vote in Seminole County to develop River Cross and is now suing in Federal Court on the grounds that the rural boundary in Seminole County discriminates against minorities. He is proposing affordable housing which is not allowed in the rural area due to density restrictions. It is rumored that part of River Cross is a bridge across the Econ at McCulloch. This will be the fourth fight I know of to stop a bridge crossing the Econ. Chris Dorworth was a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 2007 – 2012 and is a lobbyist with Ballard Partners as shown on his LinkedIn account. According to this article, he played a part in HB 883 which would have secured River Cross by allowing urban densities within 3 miles of a state university.
The politics are thick but at least we have our light. Now we just need our commissioner to focus some energy on the traffic issues in this area and find ways to alleviate McCulloch Road traffic. At this time I am not holding out much hope for this as she just doesn’t seem interested in the traffic issues. Her passion seems more inclined to protecting the rural area and anything to do with promoting the Hispanic community in which she is heavily involved.