The new Central Florida Expressway Authority paves the way for greater regional and multimodal collaboration.
Label this a comeback, a rally, a recovery or a rebirth. Take your pick. Even call it a phoenix.
An agency, mired in controversy because of private back-room misbehavior that became public front-page news, is not only given new life but also expanded jurisdiction and a clean slate. It now has the chance to rewrite history plus make a lasting impact far into the future. Perhaps also change a region’s landscape.
That’s the story behind the old Orlando-Orange County Authority and the new Central Florida Expressway Authority. The emerging entity is Central Florida Expressway for short. Certainly appropriate — the drama behind it and the road ahead are worthy of primetime on FX (home of “award-winning original television”).
This isn’t changing lanes or setting out in a different direction. This actually is rising from the ashes.
“I would describe it as a phoenix,” says Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, who played a starring role alongside Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, in getting the bill passed, with efforts dating back several years before any controversy surfaced.
On June 20, Gov. Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 230 to create Central Florida Expressway, which immediately took over the existing OOCEA and was broadened to include Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties. Under the new law, the Osceola County Expressway Authority — the only other existing agency — will manage its current road projects through 2018 or until certain financial milestones are met before joining the regional authority.
A nine-member board governs Central Florida Expressway, with representatives from each of the four counties along with the mayors of Orange County and Orlando and three gubernatorial appointees. An executive director is being sought, as well. The agency is responsible for the planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of a 109-mile limited-access expressway system serving the four county jurisdictions. For starters.
Not written is what happens next.
“The chambers of commerce and many associations have preached for a long time that we need to have regional solutions to our regional problems,” Simmons says. “Our problems just don’t end at county lines. Those county lines, in many instances, are artificial. When you get to transportation, we know that roads don’t stop at the county line. It’s important that we take a regional approach to solving these regional problems regarding transportation.”
Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, who was the House sponsor of the bill, agrees. “Too often, civic leaders in our area talk about the region of Central Florida without having a regional vision or regional planning. One of the changes to the expressway board is to bring about a truly regional transportation authority,” he says.
Also, imagine multiple options beyond pavement. “This provides a true opening of the door to the future regarding other types of transportation because it goes ahead and permits the right-of-way to be used for intermodal, multimodal forms of transportation,” Simmons says.
About three years ago, the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority had started a 2040 master plan. That work was put on hold once controversy arose.Central Florida Expressway now has that task.
“Particularly what we’re talking about [are] people-movers and the same kind of thing that you see in major metropolitan areas — to be able to use our existing rights-of-way to transfer significant numbers of people from one place to another,” Simmons cites. “We know that you can’t continue just building more roads and laying more asphalt. Moving large numbers of people in a convenient and expeditious way is going to be a part of the solution for transportation in the future.”
That could mean having an alternative mode down the center of State Road 408 near downtown Orlando or a train headed to Miami (All Aboard Florida) that runs along State Road 528 near Orlando International Airport. State Road 429 and the Wekiva Parkway could have companion modes.
Clean slate, empty canvas.
“There are many transportation planners who in looking to the future know that some of the most important parts of this legislation, this bill, really deal with opening up the window, the door to multimodal forms of transportation, particularly looking at people-movers and things like that,” Simmons adds.
With seemingly endless opportunities and vast potential, Simmons believes Central Florida Expressway can become a model.
“I believe in the idea of other areas in Florida adopting a more regional approach to their transportation needs. This is, I think, the next step in dealing with transportation,” he says. “We know that in Central Florida the idea of parochial concepts about road-building and transportation in general must give way to a more cooperative approach over larger areas.”
“Controversy was not the reason for this idea of a regional transportation authority, but it will be a beneficiary,” Simmons concludes. “All of us will be beneficiaries of a new regional approach to transportation. Why? Because it expands the opportunities for all of the counties, and it strengthens the ethical responsibilities and requirements of the new regional authority. It also provides for expanded opportunities for different forms of transportation. I think it’s a new opportunity for Central Florida.”
* This article was printed as “Fresh Start.”