A Look At How SunRail Will Affect Volusia County
May 1, 2014 | WMFE, Orlando - Volusia County's two SunRail stations are the northern-most points for Central Florida's new commuter rail line. DeLand's station is slated to begin construction this year pending funding, and DeBary's station will open for service this month.
The DeBary SunRail station, just a week before opening. Photo: Carmel Delshad | WMFE
On a recent Monday morning, Jason Davis walked along the platform of the future DeLand SunRail Station.
“Right now, this is what it looks like, you know. It’s just the old Amtrak station,” says Davis.
The Volusia County Council Chair says it’ll become the city’s SunRail station in 2016—if the money comes through. Davis describes himself as a cowboy in government. He’s not afraid to voice his concerns about SunRail—and that includes his worries about the county being on the hook for nearly $20 million.
“Once we build it, let’s say everybody comes,” says Davis. “How are we going to pay for it? How are we going to maintain this thing? Where is that money going to come from?”
SunRail’s funding comes from federal, state and county money. The federal government picks up 50 percent of the tab, while the state and county each pay 25 percent. For DeLand, dubbed Phase II North, that’s about $79 million.
But it can be made cheaper. The Florida Department of Transportation says having part of the route between DeLand and DeBary single tracked could save millions.
Transportation officials call that “skinnying it down” but it could mean a 30 minute headway between trains.
The Volusia County Council said any changes to what they signed up for—which they say was an entirely double-tracked route—would mean renegotiating the contract.
But at a March council meeting, FDOT District 5 Secretary Noranne Downs said the partial single track is only an option:
“I’m sorry, I thought we were doing a good thing by giving you another option based on what I had heard individuals say,” Downs said.
Volusia County officials are worried about who is going to pick up final tab, but FDOT says that given the federal support for the rest of the project, they’re confident DeLand will be funded too.
But Jason Davis isn’t convinced. He thinks Volusia County is getting treated “like a red-headed step child.”
And he still has a lot of questions about the bottom line.
“Do we have the money? Is the federal government and the state going to kick up the money? Because we can’t,” says Davis.
He laughs as he jokes with a couple coming to pick up an out of town guest from the Amtrak train as he tells them, "I'm just waiting for the SunRail train."
If funding comes through, the station should be up and running in 2016.
Eleven miles south, the DeBary SunRail station is almost complete. At a recent open house in late March, hundreds of people attended the event, including DeLand resident Larry Skinner.
“If I could get on the SunRail, it would open up opportunities in Orange County,” says Skinner.
Skinner says he has no problem driving the extra 20 minutes from DeLand to DeBary to get on the train. Volusia County’s bus line, Votran, will also add two feeder bus routes that service DeLand to DeBary’s SunRail station.
DeBary’s station is nestled on a fairly industrial stretch of road, with only one place to stop and get a coffee in the morning or a snack in the afternoon: Little Sammy’s Food Mart.
The gas station and convenience store is literally in the station’s backyard—and that’s a good thing according to store clerk Chris Patel.
“It’s going to bring us good business,” Patel says. “We’re going to be busy in the morning, we’re going to be busy when people get off the train.”
The City of DeBary is also hoping to encourage developers to build residential and commercial developments in the area. City planners say that could include retail shops, employment centers, and regional headquarters for larger businesses.
While Jason Davis says he’s worried about what will happen in DeLand, he’d still like to see that kind of development in DeBary too.
“In DeBary I am hoping something will grow,” says Davis. “Some young entrepreneur will come up there and say, ‘this is a great place for a… whatever.’”