Transportation Nation

Interview: John Mica Argues for Airport Expansion Over "Shortsighted" Airline Objections

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


The former chair of the House Transportation Committee supports expanding the airport in his home district, but opposition is coming from an unexpected corner: airlines. Congressman John Mica (R-Fla.) speaks with WMFE's Matthew Peddie about an airport as an engine of regional growth.

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Transportation Nation

Florida’s Flirtation with High-Speed Rail Recounted in New Book

Monday, October 01, 2012

HSR in Florida No More

Not coming to Florida anytime soon

It seems like Florida and high-speed rail were a couple that always flirted across a crowded room -- but neither had the nerve to ask for a date.

Finally in 2010 and 2011 it seemed like progress was being made. But then the pair's matchmaker -- governor Charlie Crist -- left office, and new governor Rick Scott started sending mixed signals. What could have been a storybook romance for President Obama, Florida, and fast trains evaporated faster than a Shinkansen speeding between Tokyo and Kyoto.

Time Magazine journalist Mike Grunwald recounts some of that story in his new bookThe New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era”.

Speaking with Mark Simpson on WMFE’s Intersection program this week, Grunwald recalled Orlando and Tampa’s hope’s creating a blazing fast network of trains between the two anchors of the I-4 corridor: “Florida had the shovel-readiest bullet train," he says. "You had the land, you had the route right down I-4, it was pretty much good to go. You had all these private companies that were willing to pick up the slack and say we’ll cover the cost of any overruns and make sure this isn’t going to cost Florida a dime.”

Grunwald says Rick Scott’s cancellation of high speed rail reflected the action of other Republican governors around the country, including Wisconsin and Ohio, and political ideology played into the stripping away of Obama’s grand plans for high speed rail. “There was a kind of tea party element to this; we don’t like trains, that’s the sort of liberal way to travel and we don’t like government projects.”

The high-speed rail network is now much smaller than the nationwide map originally envisioned in the stimulus package. Rather, routes in the Midwest and Northeast are beefing up to bring “higher speed rail,” which don't approach the bullet train speeds of Europe and Asia but instead are shaving off some commuting time between major cities.  (Watch videos of recent Acela tests on TN.)

So now, President Obama can't point to a gleaming set of new trains and say "I built that." According to Grunwald, that has ramifications. I talked to a guy in the administration who told me he thought this was going to be a great issue for Obama in 2012," he says, "because they would just show pictures of those guys in Florida building this new fancy high-speed network that was going to whip bullet trains past traffic on I-4 and create tens of thousands of jobs, and they’d be able to run those ads in Wisconsin and say hey thanks for your money Wisconsin -- but of  course it turned out Florida went [in that same] direction.”

You can listen to the complete conversation on WMFE’s web page.

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Transportation Nation

HUD Secretary Highlights Central Florida Commuter Line as Sprawl Fighter -- and Economic Driver

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan

Planners designing around Central Florida’s SunRail future commuter line are working to bring walkable communities around rail stops, said Shaun Donovan, secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

They are making sure zoning changes around the stations will be able to increase nearby construction, which creates jobs, but also brings housing and jobs within a walkable distance, he said in an interview with WMFE just before the Florida Housing Coalition’s annual conference.

“Frankly, families are getting more and more fed up,” Donovan said. “I don’t want to spent two hours commuting...the average family now spends fifty cents of every dollar they earn just on housing and transportation...this can lower the cost of jobs.”

SunRail is expected to cost $1.2 billion to construct. It will begin operations in 2014.


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Transportation Nation

Nation's First Incorporated African-American Town Gets Streetscape Makeover (PICS)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Gateway Welcomes Visitors to Historic Eatonville Near Orlando

(Nicole Creston, WMFE -- Orlando, Fla.) The small town of Eatonville, Fla. just north of Orlando is best known for being the oldest incorporated African-American municipality in the United States. It is also known for being home to historical landmarks like the first Central Florida school for African-Americans, and to notable figures like writer Zora Neale Hurston.

[Listen to this radio report at WMFE.]

This month, the town celebrated its 125th anniversary by cutting the ribbon on the crown jewel of a multi-year beautification project: an archway visible from Interstate 4. The stately structure welcomes visitors to town and gives Eatonville a new sense of identity. It could be the first step in turning the town into a destination for historic tourism.

Maye St. Julien, Chair of the Eatonville Historic Preservation Board, explains the significance of the year 1887 for Eatonville, and why it’s being recognized 125 years later. “What we celebrate is the actual signing of the articles of incorporation making it an official town recognized by the state.”

The town was actually founded in 1881 by a freed slave named Joe Clark, says St. Julien. She says since African-Americans could only buy individual plots of land back then – enough for one house – Clark sought the help of his boss, citrus industry entrepreneur and retired military captain Josiah Eaton.

“The town is named for Mr. Eaton because he was the major contributor and the major supporter of Joe Clark,” says St. Julien. “And he advertised, and you can see on the newspaper back in 1880s, for people of color to come to Eatonville and own your own land, and you could purchase a lot for $35, or $50 if you needed credit. And that’s how this town was made.”

Six years later, in 1887, men from 27 of Eatonville’s 29 families incorporated the town.

“There were 29, but there was a bit of intimidation on the part of the whites when it was learned that the blacks had acquired this much land,” explains St. Julien. “So, two of them became a little concerned and chose not to participate in that, but thank goodness and God bless the 27 who did,” says St. Julien.

Eatonville’s historic main street is East Kennedy Boulevard. From its intersection with I-4, the town’s business district stretches east about five blocks and the whole strip has been completely refurbished. The road has been repaved and repainted, brick pedestrian walkways have been added, and sidewalks are bristling with Florida-friendly flowers and foliage.

Eatonville Mayor Bruce Mount can’t hide his enthusiasm about the changes that district has seen over the past few years. “If you haven’t been down Kennedy Boulevard lately, you will not know Kennedy Boulevard,” says Mount.

City Planners Worked for Two Years to Revive Downtown Eatonville with New Street Pavers, Refurbished Sidewalks, and Shady Trees

Famous African-American institutions including the Hungerford Normal and Industrial School and figures like Hurston shared addresses along the storied piece of pavement.

And now, Eatonville is getting the kind of gateway its leaders say it deserves. A new iron archway mounted on brick columns stretches across Kennedy, facing I-4. A sign at the top extends a welcome to Eatonville and displays information about the historic town and its 125th anniversary. Mount says the whole structure lights up at night.

Writer Zora Neale Hurston Grew Up in Eatonville and Included the Town in Her Novels

“It has a clock on it and it also has some nice plaques on it,” Mount adds. “The Zora Neale Hurston plaque is there, the school [plaque] is there, so that is a very nice theme to the streetscape… The citizens are proud. I’m getting calls all the time.”

The vast majority of those calls about Kennedy’s overhaul are positive, he says.

And so is most of the conversation down the street during a recent lunchtime rush at Vonya’s Southern Cooking Café on Kennedy. The customers were buzzing about Eatonville’s makeover.

“Huge difference already,” says nine-year Eatonville resident Darrius Gallagher. “It should be very beautiful. It’s a very historic town.”

Esther Critton has lived in Eatonville all of her nineteen years. “With them doing the construction, it gives the town a better look and then makes the people feel good, makes the town run smoother,” she says. “So, we’re coming a long way.”

In August 2012, 125 years after the 27 men signed the articles of incorporation for Eatonville, Mayor Mount helped honor those men by cutting the ribbon on the gateway that commemorates the town’s anniversary. The ribbon stretched the full five blocks of the business district, wrapping around the smaller brick columns that now mark the east end of Eatonville on Kennedy.

Those columns, although constructed as part of the same project as the gateway, do not have an arch to support. That seems to be a bit of a problem for one nearby business owner - former Eatonville Mayor Abraham Gordon Junior.

Decorative Columns Mark the East Entrance to Eatonville

Former Mayor Eatonville Abraham Gordon Jr.  Runs Be Back Fish House in Town

Gordon owns the Be Back Fish House, a seafood restaurant and the business closest to those columns. He had a different vision for his end of the street, including a sign identifying the town and, ideally, an archway like the one close to I-4.

“It should’ve been the same height that is down on that end,” says Gordon, “and just had across ‘Welcome to Eatonville’ and that would’ve made it somewhat complete.”Gordon also says the placement of the columns so near his restaurant used up space he was hoping he could dedicate to his customers.

“There’s parking in front of every business in the town of Eatonville,” explains Gordon. “There’s parking in places where there’s no business in the town of Eatonville. And no parking in front of this place, where there is business.”

Instead, he points out, there’s a proliferation of that Florida-friendly foliage, which is mean to enhance the look of the columns but winds up partially obscuring his restaurant from view.

But, he adds, he’s seen the changes Eatonville has undergone since he first arrived in the early 1950s, and he doesn’t want to stand in the way of the town’s evolution. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, and we don’t need any more problems.”

He says Eatonville has come a very long way from the cluster of houses surrounded by dirt roads and strained wastewater systems he first saw, and overall he says the town’s new look is “very nice.”

Eatonville Public Works Director Abraham Canady says, “the construction is a result of a federal grant that was spearheaded by Congresswoman Corrine Brown." She adds, "the grant went through the Federal Highway Administration to Florida Department of Transportation.”

The Project was Made Possible by Help From State and Federal DOT's

Canady says the current construction value of the project is about $1.4 million, and he thinks it’s worth every penny, especially the west end gateway that draws welcome attention to the town.

And that’s just the beginning, according to Mayor Mount. There are more changes coming, starting with plans for more development near the new gateway.

“We want it to be mixed use – amphitheaters, the eateries, the hotels,” he says. “That’s what we want. We want Eatonville, when we’re talking about the future, to be a tourist destination. And because people say, ‘What do you have to sell, what do people have to sell?’ Our history.”

He says Eatonville could capitalize on “historical tourism” and become a destination for visitors looking for a different type of Orlando vacation than the theme parks offer.

Mount says that idea is still in the early stages. Next step – a visioning meeting with the town council as Eatonville continues to evolve…and celebrate its anniversary throughout the year.

Click here to listen to Nicole Creston's report on Eatonville at WMFE. 

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Transportation Nation

Florida Transportation Officials Plug Safety as Train Traffic Increases

Friday, February 24, 2012

(Orlando -- WMFE) With work beginning on SunRail, train traffic along the stretch of tracks running from Poinciana to Deland is expected to triple.

Rail safety experts worry that could lead to an increase in the number of motorists or pedestrians straying into the path of oncoming trains.

According to Federal Railroad Administration figures, rail crossing accidents have risen over the past 2 years after years of steady decline. In Florida in 2010, 67 people were involved in accidents at rail crossings, up from 48 the year before.

The Florida Department of Transportation says people will have to be extra vigilant once SunRail starts running.

“These railroad tracks, that had been active in the past, are going to be even more so, and these trains are going to be coming through quicker, they’re going to be quieter, and they just could sneak up on you," says Steve Olson from the Florida DOT.

So the agency is focusing on Operation Lifesaver, a nationwide rail safety education program.

Spokesman Jim Martin says the SunRail development is a good opportunity to get the safety message out.

"We have multiple lines here in Orange County, and in the Central Florida area, so my message is much broader than just the SunRail itself," he says.

And rail traffic could increase in Central Florida even after SunRail begins: the Florida DOT is commissioning two further studies looking into the potential for other commuter rail lines, one of them extending from Orlando to Eustis, and the other linking Orlando International Airport with the city.



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Transportation Nation

Proposed $1.6 Billion Dollar Wekiva Parkway in Central Florida Jumps Forward

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Standing Room Only As MetroPlan Orlando Approves Wekiva Parkway Deal

(Orlando, WMFE) The controversial $1.6 billion dollar Wekiva Parkway project moved ahead Tuesday in Orlando as the regional planning body Metro-Plan Orlando approved a funding proposal for the 25-mile long roadway.  Only two commissioners voted against the funding plan.  Osceola County Commissioner and Metro-plan board member John Quinones cited concerns about costs as his reason for voting no, "You’re talking about 1.6 billion dollars.  That is too much of a price tag.  I think the toll roads are going to pay the consequences.  I just don’t think the cost benefit analysis warrants the building of this road right now."

Currently the Florida Turnpike Authority will pay for 28% percent of the project costing about $459 million dollars, state DOT funds will cover another 28% at $460 million, and the Orlando/ Orange County Expressway Authority will pickup the remaining 44% or 745 million dollars.

The roadway project which has been discussed for more than 50 years, raised controversy on the latest round of discussions because some studies by the Orlando /Orange County Expressway Authority show the Wekiva Parkway won't be able to pay for itself for years, despite being partially tolled.

The Wekiva Parkway Hearing in Orlando Brought Out Opponents and Supporters

Also, about 150 residents of the 12 Oaks RV Resort in Sanford, Florida will have to be relocated if the roadway isn't moved.  Manager Sid Bennett says he's planing a lawsuit under the Older Americans Act which was signed in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson.  Bennett  said he felt many emotion after the approval of the parkway, "Desperation, despair, because this is just another step in the taking and the forcing of something that's going to have be very tragic for a lot of people on SR 46."

Environmental groups in Central Florida including Audubon of Florida are supporting the Wekiva Parkway because it will be partially elevated allowing migrating black bears and other species to pass under without crossing traffic.

Some of the Proposed Wekiva Parway's Route

Initially the highway will be composed of four lanes with slip roads on the side.  Eventually it could be expanded to six lanes.

Next the plan goes before the Lake-Sumter Regional Planning Organization and the Orlando/Orange County Expressway Authority.

Groundbreaking could start as early as this fall.

You can listen to economist Dr. Hank Fishkind's analysis of the Wekiva Parkway project here.



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Transportation Nation

New South Florida Rail Connection to Miami International Airport Almost Done

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Artist's rendering of the completed AirportLink Metrorail extension

For close to three years, Miami-Dade Transit workers have been banging out 2.4 miles of track. And now AirportLink Metrorail -- a rail connection to Miami International Airport -- is slated to be finished this spring.

The new elevated rail line will connect Miami’s Metrorail system to a major new transit hub adjacent to Miami International Airport called the MIC, or Miami Intermodal Center. The MIC will be fully operational by 2013, connecting passengers and other transit riders to bus lines, Amtrak, and south Florida’s Tri-Rail commuter service.  An automated people mover that goes between MIC and the MIA is already in service.

AirportLink will connect to a new transportation hub called the MIC

The AirportLink, which is the largest expansion of Metrorail since it was launched in 1984, is an elevated train -- and one the most complicated transportation projects happening in the Miami area.  Paying for the project has come largely through a half-penny sales tax approved for the project by voters in 2002.  The sales tax has raised about $404 million dollars; another $100 million has come from the Florida Department of Transportation.

Transportation alternatives including buses, Amtrak, and commuter rail are available in Miami

The Miami area hosts Florida's largest collection of rail systems.  Orlando is building a commuter train called "SunRail", which is slated to open in two years.

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Transportation Nation

YEAR IN REVIEW FLORIDA: 2011 Rides Rails Out of the Sunshine State

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

SunRail survived 2011; high-speed rail in Florida wasn't so lucky.

(Orlando-WMFE) The start of 2011 held a fair amount of transportation-related optimism for Florida--and with good reason. The state looked on track to be one of the first in the nation to begin a high-speed rail line, Central Florida was eying commuter rail, and Florida's brand new governor, Rick Scott, was promising fresh thinking in Tallahassee.

But then Scott took office. And one of his first decisions was to freeze major state actions until after he reviewed them. His review of high-speed rail wasn't favorable, and in February, Scott joined Republican governors from Ohio and Wisconsin in rejecting federal funds for bullet trains. The move set off a flurry of activity to stop the Sunshine State from losing the more than $2 billion slated for the project. It also raised the blood pressure of rail supporters, who were now left wondering what Scott would do to central Florida’s promised SunRail commuter line.

The governor spent months reviewing SunRail and he approved it in July.  Behind the scenes, though, powerful Republican Congressman John Mica, who chairs the U.S. House Transportation Committee, had been watching Governor Scott’s moves.  The governor was counting on Mica to approve $77 million dollars in federal funds to start deepening the port of Miami to accommodate Panamax ships.   Mica made a connection between the Governor’s approving of SunRail and his approval of the $77 million.

Florida also rolled out a major roads program in August.  It spells out proposals for creating new tolled lanes on Interstate 4 and completing a ring road around Orlando known as the Wekiva Parkway. But both programs could be susceptible to budget machinations which are set to start in next month in Tallahassee.  Last year state lawmakers raided the transportation trust fund to the tune of more than $100 million dollars to fill a budget gap.  Governor Scott says he’s loathe to pull that money out again, but he knows it's an option.

So all in all, Florida lost some high speed rail, gained SunRail, might get a major parkway around Orlando, will likely get deeper ports, and more toll roads.  Money holds the key to all of it, and legislative session starts next month.

Read our other year in review posts here.

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Transportation Nation

Where Astronauts Do Their Christmas Shopping

Monday, December 19, 2011

Festive Space Shuttle with Holiday Wreath

This holiday season if you’re looking for something that is unique to Central Florida you might want go where astronauts stop off to do their shopping.  Yep, after a hard day of clocking in with the U.S. Space program astronauts head out State Road Three and stop at the aptly named “Space Shirts”.

It’s been a must stop destination for engineers, managers, tourists, and astronauts all looking for a bit of holiday space swag.  Co-owner Brenda Mulberry says more than six months after the final shuttle mission people are stilling coming in for the special bit of shuttle memorabilia, “This is going to last for the next couple of years.  It’s not like the frenzy right after the final mission.  But we still get people coming in who say the Space Center is sold out.”

She says community support is strong for the “Space Shirts” business which sells everything from embroidered shirts (done onsite) to coffee mugs, mission pins, and yes holiday items.

Nebula Tree, Orbiting Ornamenets, and ISS with Holiday Lights

Mulberry says top holiday items include holiday cards with the International Space Station decked out in Christmas lights, and tree ornaments of a shuttle and an astronaut framed by a wreath.


Space Shirts is easy to find. It’s located right next to the aptly named “Shuttles Dugout Bar and Grill.” So you don't have to orbit far to grab a bite after spending your shekels on shuttle swag!

There's Lots of Little Shuttles and Astronauts to Choose From

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Transportation Nation

Daytona Beach Researchers Transform Air Travel

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Virtual Airplane Flies in the NextGen Test Bed at Daytona Beach International Airport

(Nicole Creston -- Orlando, FL, WMFE )  Most people think beaches, bikers and NASCAR when they hear about Daytona Beach. But research at Daytona Beach International Airport and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is expected to revolutionize cockpits and airport control towers around the country, and eventually, the world. That’s where a group of aviation experts are working on the “Next Generation” of air travel technology, called "NextGen" for short.

It uses GPS, among other things, and is expected to be the most expensive national transportation project since interstates were built. The Federal Aviation Administration expects NextGen to improve communications, lower fuel costs, and decrease delays for airplane passengers.

Pilots are busy. They’re flying the plane, and keeping track of many important details. Some of the most crucial information comes from air traffic controllers with specifics on take-offs, landings, routes and weather conditions.

It sounds something like this: “’Turn right 30 degrees radar vectors for traffic climb and maintain flight level at two-four-zero and contact Washington center on one-three-five-point-zero.’”

That example comes courtesy of Embry-Riddle professor Sid McGuirk, a 35-year air traffic control veteran. “There’s a lot of information in there,” he adds.

McGuirk says currently pilots have to write most of that down as they’re maneuvering the plane. They’re trained to handle it, he points out, but research at Embry Riddle’s Daytona International test bed could help the NextGen system make all that easier…and that never hurts.

“In the future, the communications [are] going to be much like an email message, or a tweet, or twitter, if you will,” explains McGuirk. “So, the controller can tweet the clearance to the pilot and the pilot can tweet back that he or she acknowledges the clearance.”

Like those new communications, most of the test bed’s research takes place on computers – in fact, the 10,000 square-foot facility could be mistaken for simply an office building at first glance. But the centerpiece of the test bed is a console topped with three enormous screens that simulate the view out of Daytona International’s air traffic control tower windows…in real time. Real airplanes are being tracked on those screens, as they come and go.

Three Screens Display a Virtual View of Looking Out of a Airport Control Tower

But, it’s a simulation. So researchers can slip in virtual aircraft equipped with NextGen technology, including advanced GPS and lots of new communication gear, and see if they can work within the existing system.

McGuirk says he adapted to many updates throughout his time as an air traffic controller, but he’s amazed at how different things are now than when he first started. He says, “You actually had to take a piece of plastic, and write on the piece of plastic with a grease pencil and then manually push the piece of plastic across the flat radar screen to follow the aircraft!”

US Congressman John Mica of Winter Park heads up the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mica says the FAA, Embry Riddle experts, and the private aviation industry all agreed the system needs an upgrade.

“Well, we basically have a post –World War II aviation air traffic control system,” Mica says. “We rely on a ground-based radar system.”

He’s says he’s happy to have Central Florida’s unique resources on the job. “A test bed, an actually functioning model at the Daytona Beach International Airport which is located and co-located – the property’s adjacent to Embry Riddle. Couldn’t have a better combination.”

Mica says air traffic is expected to double globally by the year 2020. That’s where GPS comes in. The ability to see exactly where an airplane is in the sky means aviation officials can look for unused airspace that’ll fit more planes in the air, safely. And GPS has a knack for finding the shortest routes, which saves money on fuel and reduces travel time for passengers.

NextGen program manager Wade Lester says there’s more good news for passengers – the system will cut down on weather-related slowdowns, which make up 60 percent of all air travel delays. Air traffic controllers will see weather trouble way before they can now.

“They’re able to say, ‘Oh, at this point in time, this aircraft will converge with this bad weather,’” Lester explains. “So rather than waiting until you fly right up to it and the pilot says, ‘I see really bad weather and I’m going to have to’ what we call vector, ‘I’m going to have to vector around that weather,’ they say, ‘Just make a small course correction early and you’ll arrive much closer to your original destination.’”

Lester says the GPS additions and improved communications are just part of this massive air travel modernization project, and implementing all the changes will take some time. Pilots, air traffic controllers, and passengers should see the benefits within the next few years, but the FAA is aiming for full completion in 2025.

Researcher Josh Daily Flies a Virtual Airplane at the NextGen Test Bed


Click here for an audio version of this story.

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Transportation Nation

Florida House Redistricting Proposals Signal Trouble for Mica's District

Thursday, December 08, 2011

WMFERedistricting is Underway in Fla.- Orlando- John Mica's seat may not be safe under the  Florida House’s plans either.

A Florida State Senate plan released last week would severely redraw the Congressional district for the chair of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, John Mica.

Now four of a seven Florida House proposals for Congressional districts don't look better for Mica(Available for review here.), according to political analyst Steven Schale.

He says  four maps out of the seven proposals released by the House would put Mica in districts that "voted right around fifty percent or above for (President) Obama.  Under any measure, that is far more competitive than (where) Mica is in today."

Both houses of Florida's legislature are Republican-controlled.

Last week, the Florida Senate released its version of proposed district revisions.  Those plans could potentially draw influential congressional members outside of their existing districts.  For example, the residence of powerful U.S. Congressman John Mica, of Winter Park, could be removed from its current location within Mica’s district 7.  Mica chairs the House Transportation Committee.

This week on WMFE’s Intersection program, former Florida GOP Congressman Lou Frey, clarified that it is not necessary for a member of Congress to live in their district, “Mica hasn’t lived in his district on and off. You don’t have to live in the district.  You have to live in the state and you have to be over 25 years of age, but that’s it.  So whether you live in the district or not, it’s a political matter.”

Final outlines for the redistricting maps will not be solidified until January's legislative session.

Mica's office says he'll comment when the final maps are released.

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Transportation Nation

Florida HOT Lane Expansion Gaining Top Level Support

Friday, October 28, 2011

(Image via Florida DOT)

(Orlando, Fla. -- WMFE) A plan to expand managed toll lanes on highways around Florida is gaining support in top offices at the state and national level.  This week Governor Rick Scott, speaking on a Florida radio program, said that he endorses creating more High Occupancy/Toll lanes, where drivers drivers pay a fee to use them, especially during rush hours.

Last week in Orlando, Republican Congressman John Mica who chairs the House Transportation Committee said he also wants the program to move forward.  “What we hope to do is free up the inside median and the right of way and allow innovative financing plans.  We have many companies that will come in and partner with the state or local governments and commissions and provide additional laneage based on toll and revenue.” Several years ago, Mica inserted a provision into federal law prohibiting any new tolls on existing interstates in his district. He says, the ban will stay, and that only new lanes will be tolled.

An expansion of Interstate 4 around parts of Orlando using the HOT Lane concept, or as it is informally called, “Lexus lanes” is being considered under a new transportation plan unveiled earlier this year by state Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad.

Florida is facing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall this year. Expanded tolling is expected to help bridge the budget gap.  Florida already has HOT Lanes under the "Florida Express" program that runs on a 7.3 mile stretch of I-95 in Miami Dade County. Carpools and motorcycles don't have to pay, everyone else pays based on a variable congestion pricing scheme that rises the more crowded a lane is getting at a given time. According to a review of state DOT data by PolitiFact the lanes reduced traffic, "speeds for rush-hour traffic in non-toll lanes had improved from 25 m.p.h. to 45 m.p.h."

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Transportation Nation

Orlando Cyclists Learn to Control Traffic

Friday, September 23, 2011

(Orlando, WMFE)  Orlando does not have a good reputation when it comes to city streets and urban cycling.  The group Transportation for America ranked it the worst city in the nation for pedestrians and other street users earlier this year.  However, a small group of Orlando-based cycling advocates is pushing for bike enthusiasts to learn how to ride safely in traffic and manage interactions with motor vehicles.

Mighk Wilson is a bicycle advocate with Orlando’s Metroplan Agency. For the past two years Wilson ,along with a small group of instructors, is teaching a course called “Cycling Savvy” that is part classroom and text book and real world wheels on the street experience.  Students learn how to avoid getting doored, emergency maneuvers like the "instant turn" and the "quick stop" things like how to make a quick swerve on a bike to avoid a car door opening, or how to sweep like a Tour De France rider around a tight curve if another vehicle forces you to choose between a different direction and wiping out.

Instructor Mighk Wilson says the course is about changing people’s beliefs about cycling,The general belief in the general populous is that cycling in traffic is dangerous or requires superhuman skills, strength, and speed.  It really doesn’t.  It just requires understanding how traffic moves and what your role is in it.”

So far about 150 students have taken the class.  A new fall session is just starting.  Wilson says cooler weather brings out more interest in biking and makes it more bearable.

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Transportation Nation

Car-Share Increasing College Campus Presence

Friday, September 09, 2011


(WMFE, Orlando) The short term motor vehicle rental service Zipcar launched its service on the campus of Orlando’s University of Central Florida this week, bringing its national presence on college campuses to 240.

About forty students signed up to use the four-car fleet of hybrids and compact vehicles.  Zipcars are checked out for periods ranging from an hour to up to four days.

Zipcar spokeman Jeremy Lynch says car sharing gives students a way to get off campus, “ We give students the freedom to go the grocery store, the pharmacy, or even Cocoa Beach," Lynch said.  For students not having to mooch a ride off a friend is also a potential perk of using Zipcar.  The UCF campus is located on the far eastern side of Orlando.  It’s surrounded by busy three lane roads with few pedestrian crossings.  Although some local apartments run shuttles to the campus, virtually everything else around UCF is only easily acessible by car.

UCF entrepreneurship and international business major Krystal Wilkinson says even though she has a car she would consider using Zipcar’s service because of savings on gas.  When asked if she thought her fellow university students would be responsible enough to return the cars and in usable condition Wilkinson says “ I think the students would actually look into Zipcar are the responsible students who were attempting to save money.  Students who don’t really care what they’re spending or using wouldn’t look into that.”

Students have to pay a $35 dollar annual fee and are then charged for their usage. A fleet of mobile apps are available for smart phones and allow for reservations 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Zipcar is already operating at several campuses around Florida including the University of Miami, University of Florida, and Florida State University.  Zipcar began working with colleges in 2002, at MIT.   One potential appeal of the Zipcar at UCF’s commuter oriented campus; each Zipcar vehicle gets a reserved parking spot.



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Transportation Nation

Interview: Congressman Mica Opens Up on FAA Debate

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user Simon_sees)

(WMFE-Orlando) Congressman John Mica, chair of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, strenuously defended his negotiating stance on funding for the Federal Aviation Administration including the recent political stalemate that left the agency partially shut down for two weeks.  He spoke on WMFE's Intersection program, you can hear the full interview here.

He told WMFE that the democrats are "demagoguing the issue" and that they "bait the media" into making the debate about unions rather than "pork laden subsidies" to a few airports in the Essential Air Service program that Mica wants to reform to save money. "They actually put people out of work for two weeks because of their reluctance to pass even that kind of minor cut."

"The union issue is one of six remaining major issues" in partisan negotiations over long term funding he said. "I've been willing to compromise," he stressed. He said he wants a long term funding agreement for the FAA and the democrats are holding it up. "I will use every means possible to get a long term, four-year  reauthorization after four-and-a-half years of Democrat delay."

Mica criticized Democratic concerns about funding cuts to rural air service, as well as the role the of the Association of Flight Attendants (an airline union) in sparking further debate over proposed GOP changes to union organizing rules.

Of the AFA Mica said “They’re being used as pawns and duped tools in a larger national debate," adding "I feel kind of pity for them by the way they’ve been abused by the leadership in Washington."

The Winter Park, Florida Republican did say he is open to compromise on a variety of issues. "I've been willing to compromise on every issue, including the so-called union issue."

The FAA's current temporary funding measure runs through September 16th.  After that it's up to Congress to take up the funding issue again.

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Transportation Nation

Mica: Protesting Flight Attendants are "Pawns," "Duped Tools" in FAA Funding Debate

Friday, August 12, 2011

(WMFE-Orlando) U.S. Congressman John Mica dismissed criticism of his  position on FAA funding with harsh words this week, calling protesting flight attendants "pawns" in a greater debate.

The Association of Flight Attendants is the union that represents close to 60,000 flight attendants nationwide. The group staged protests at Mica's offices in Florida Thursday and Friday. They also followed hm to a fundraising event in Texas to deliver concerns over a GOP effort to repeal rules that make it easier for airline and railroad workers to organize. WMFE interviewed Mica about the FAA shutdown, the AFA protests and his positions on funding for aviation.

In an interview with WMFE, which will air Tuesday on WMFE FM's Intersection program, Mica says of the AFA protesters: "They're being used as pawns and duped tools in a laerger national debate. And actually I feel kind of pity for them because of the way they've been abused by some of the leadership in Washington," he said. (Audio here)

However, Mica indicated he's willing to compromise on sticking points in that greater debate over FAA funding including union rules, flights to rural areas, and the number of airline slots at Washington, D.C. airports, all subjects of partisan negotiation holding up a full re-authorization.

Mica blamed previous democratic Congresses for the impasse that shuttered the FAA for weeks starting in late July. A temporary measure restarted work at the FAA last week. It expires on September 16th after which Republicans and Democrats will

You can hear Mica's full comments on funding the FAA in an interview on WMFE's Intersection program, on Tuesday 9:30 am ET.

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Transportation Nation

FAA Shutdown Stops Research at Florida Aviation School

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Entrance to Embry Riddle (photo by Aerojimmy via Wikimedia Commons)

(Orlando -- WMFE) The Federal Aviation Administration’s partial shutdown is impacting projects beyond just airports.  Embry Riddle University in Daytona Beach has two contracts that have been put on hold -- and several of their staff members are affected.

One is a $20 million dollar project related to general aviation research. The other is a $245,000 contract that covers several projects, including research on the NextGen air traffic control system and helping small aircraft pilots get better weather information.

Embry Riddle spokesman Robert Ross says the $20 million dollar contract is split among research programs at several schools across the U.S. and is distributed by an FAA project called the Center of Excellence for General Aviation Research -- or CEGAR, which is headed up by Embry Riddle.  It includes projects like a $1 million dollar effort to create a GPS-based system to allow airplanes to see each other in real time while flying.

Ross said about 10 people at Embry Riddle and other universities conducting research through CEGAR are affected by the furlough of the FAA’s monitors and grant reviewers. Some Embry Riddle research is monitored by FAA staff who oversee contracts, so those projects are on hold until federal funding comes through.  Ross also pointed out that the university's FAA grant seeking is on hold --  faculty researchers at the aviation school can’t submit proposals to the agency for research funding because of the federal furlough.

The FAA’s funding expired on July 22nd.  FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen says stopped  projects won’t restart till Congress passes -- and the president signs -- an extension of the FAA reauthorization bill.

For more TN coverage on the FAA shutdown, go here.

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Transportation Nation

Pressure Mounting to Approve Sunrail in Central Florida

Thursday, June 16, 2011


(Orlando, Fla-WMFE)  Stakeholders across Central Florida are nervously waiting for Governor Rick Scott’s decision whether or not to approve the region’s 1.2 billion dollar commuter train project.

Scott says he will announce his decision at the end of June.

The Sunrail project has been in the works for years and looked to be running forward smoothly until the Governor put major contracts related to the commuter train on hold in January pending his approval.  But that didn’t stop communities from moving forward with their plans to develop storefronts and other transit related amenities near the proposed stations.

See the Sunrail route here.

Some communities have already paid their consultants, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars, and could risk spending the money for nothing if the Governor shuts down Sunrail.

According to Phil Laurien, the Director of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, “ It’s a risk if they did not plan for Sunrail.  If we waste the asset of the Sunrail stop to have more high density, transit oriented, walkable development, mixed use where people can shop and live and work, those are tremendous assets.  Everywhere that transit oriented development has been done right it has stimulated the local economy.”

Laurien says he recently was visited by members of the German Parliament looking for places to invest in sustainable development in the US.  He says the Germans consider Central Florida to be a loser region without the commuter train project.

Recently US Congressman John Mica, who chairs the House Transportation Committee heard a presentation on a proposed rail line that would run adjacent to Sunrail from downtown Orlando northwards into rural Lake County, called the Orange Blossom Express.  State transportation officials have 13.8 million dollars set aside to improve rails on that line.  The Orange Blossom Express could be running within five years

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Transportation Nation

Mica Draws Connection Between Central Florida SunRail and Port of Miami Project

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

(Orlando, Fla-- Mark Simpson, WMFE) Central Florida Republican Congressman John Mica says he's carefully reviewing Governor Rick Scott’s proposal to deepen the port of Miami to accommodate a new class of larger ships.

As chair of the House Transportation Committee, Mica is in charge of signing off on Federal dollars for the project. At a meeting in Orlando Monday, Mica made a point to compare that process with the Governor's review of Central Florida's planned commuter train.

Governor Rick Scott wants to spend $77 million of state money to dredge the Port of Miami, but total costs for the project are expected to be as high as $150 million.

Congressman John Mica's committee gets to decide whether to approve an additional $75 million in federal money that would make up the difference.

Mica didin't directly  say he was linking that decision  to the Governor's  approval of the SunRail commuter train ... but he did bring up the similar timings for the two decisions, “ I get to authorize the project for the deepening at the federal level. Right now I’m studying them very closely as the Governor is studying the rail project very closely and I’ll make my decision next month in June about the time he makes his decision.”

Mica is referring to Governor Scott’s months long review of   SunRail's financial viability.

That has put a lot of SunRail supporters, including Mica, on alert, especially after the Governor torpedoed Florida’s High Speed Rail hopes in February.

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Transportation Nation

Florida Senator May Ask State Supreme Court to Reopen High Speed Rail Case

Friday, April 15, 2011

HSR in Florida No More

(Orlando, Fla. -- Mark Simpson, WMFE) The Central Florida lawmaker who sued Governor Rick Scott’s administration for scrapping Florida's high speed rail plan says he feels vindicated after the Governor’s office admitted it mis-stated how much money the state had spent on the project.

But Senator Thad Altman says he’s not sure what legal course to take now that the rail money is being offered to other states.

Melborne Republican Thad Altman argued before the Florida Supreme Court last month that Governor Rick Scott had a constitutional duty to carry out the high speed rail program which had been approved by the previous governor.

As part of the counter-argument, the governor’s legal council  told the court that the state had spend $110 million already on the project. But this week, the governor's office said that number was too high.

Senator Altman was not surprised, "Clearly we were right. We argued that only $30 million had been spent. We had appropriated $130 million. [In effect], that money had been impounded, that he in effect was trying to veto something that the previous governor had approved and that the project was being held up."
After hearing all the arguments, the Florida supreme court ruled Governor Scott did have the authority to reject $2.4 billion in federal money for the high-speed train.

Senator Altman says he may consider asking the  Court to reopen the case -- but he thinks there’s little chance to get the federal money back.

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