New development district to help connect Central Florida via rail

New development district to help connect Central Florida via rail

Writer: Joshua Andino  

2 min read January 2023 Universal recently filed a petition to establish the Shingle Creek Transit Utility Community Development District, marking the first concrete step toward Brightline’s westward expansion across Orlando, and eventually, Tampa.

As Brightline continues to wrap up its testing along its newly constructed rail line that connects Orlando International Airport to South Florida, the Sunshine Corridor Program achieved a major milestone with Universal petitioning Orange County for the creation of the Shingle Creek Transit Utility Community Development District to serve as the a limited-purpose public entity that will  plan, finance, construct, operate, own and maintain a new Orange County Convention Center SunRail station.

The Sunshine Corridor Program is the east-west expansion of Orlando’s Sunrail commuter rail service, and will simultaneously lease out the track to Brightline as it continues its westward expansion toward Tampa. 

“The Sunshine Corridor is critical to moving our workforce. Creating a transportation network that connects our workers to their jobs, our residents to our airport, and allows our visitors to have options when they travel is essential,” said City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Chairman for the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission in a press release.

While an earlier version of the plan included a stop at Disney World, the current iteration of the plan and Universal’s commitment to establishing the Orange County Convention Center Station will instead serve the currently under construction Epic Universe theme park, Universal’s new, over $1 billion attraction. Universal will be the sole landowner – and as a result, the sole taxpayer for the Shingle Creek Transit Utility Community Development District. The district will be more efficiently able to issue bonds and secure the necessary land – of which Universal is donating 13 acres for the construction of the new station. The next steps include working alongside Sunrail and Orlando Right Rail, the public entity coordinating the various stakeholders in the project, to enter the preliminary stages of infrastructure development and site planning.

Private sector support is critical in the development of new rail projects, and the lack of it is often a major obstacle for project implementation, explained Corey Hill, Kimley-Horn senior project manager and former executive director of the Federal Railroad Administration to the Orlando Business Journal. With Universal’s backing and the majority of the land necessary for the right-of-way publicly owned, most of the concerns are already addressed.

The route will continue on to I-Drive, connecting thousands of jobs to the wider region. Maria Triscari, president and CEO of the International Drive Resort Area Chamber of Commerce, told Invest: the corridor was home to over 130 hotels, 350 restaurants, 900 retail quotes, six theme parks, and will see over $2 billion in new and planned development, including the aforementioned Epic Universe park.

Providing greater multimodal connectivity will also help to relieve traffic congestion that has become increasingly prescient. While Mayor Dyer has referred to the expansion as a jobs train, he explained to Invest: last year that transit would remain a key priority moving forward. “Our expressway, the North Corridor for SunRail and the South Terminal that will be opening soon at the airport are some of the developments we’ve completed. Over four years, we have invested $10 billion in transportation infrastructure within the city… Having an east-west route will be extremely important, especially for the workforce.”

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