Remember how, way back when the CSX thing started, the Lakeland Chamber and the rest of aristocracy spent a lot of time hemming and hawing their opposition because they didn’t want to meddle in Winter Haven’s economic development project and wanted to avoid controversy, etc? And you remember when the Chamber folks conspired with Bob Gernert over at the Winter Haven Chamber to halt a divisive protest that was a figment of Tom Palmer’s imagination?
Trust me, that’s how it happened.
Well, is anyone remotely surprised that Gernert and his Winter Haven Chamber cohorts showed no such concern about forcefully wading into a Lakeland city issue: where to locate the high speed rail stop. It’s a gratuitous bit of discord sewing, of course, at a time when we were making such superregional, ahem, progress. But general jerkiness aside, I kind of admire it. And I wish we could trade Chambers: At least Gernert and his boys do something. Their rapaciousness in the service of their city is admirable in its way.
Anyway, I digress. Actually I procrastinate. I’m trying to find a way not to say this, but, gulp, I agree with Bob — and Seth McKeel and the all powerful green and gold wizards.
A major new I-4 transportation corridor is a 100-year investment. We should think of it that way. It’s going to be a political and ridership disappointment in the short-term no matter where the stop goes. I still think it’s worth the investment over the long term, but until we get a carbon tax or reach peak oil and consistently see crushingly expensive gas, I do not foresee massive Lakeland-to-anywhere ridership on this thing. Happy to admit it if I’m wrong. (By the way, I’ll actually believe we’ll get any stop when I see it. I agree with Seth on that, too. DOT would love to rip this stop away. It doesn’t make a lot transportation sense. Fighting over it serves those who wish Lakeland ill. And you know who you are.)
So while I understand the argument for locating it where people currently are, at I-4 and 98, my own feeling is that placing the stop at the site of a university at the hub of a large potential development, potentially with large Orlampa-area enrollment, makes more sense for 2040. And that’s how I’m thinking. Also, accessible rail may encourage denser, less car intensive development around the new university — which I think is an important consideration.
I tend to doubt the fleet of USF-colored Legoland buses toting whining children back and forth to the rail stop will ever happen. But hey, I’ve been wrong before. When was that, by the way?
In any event, it’ll be fun to see if the Lakeland Chamber ever gets out of the fetal position on this.