SunRail may be expanding to Polk County

Are your days of sitting in I-4 traffic almost behind you?

SunRail train

All aboard.

Photo via @mrmatthewrobertedwards

Table of Contents

The Florida Department of Transportation’s SunRail extension study was approved by The Polk County Transportation Planning Organization on Thursday, Oct. 12. Now, it’s in the project development + environment phase.

By the numbers

Let’s take a look at SunRail’s possible Lakeland expansion, by the numbers.

  • $839 million-$1.08 billion. That’s what it could cost to extend SunRail into Lakeland at $27 million per mile.
  • $18.7 million-$24.3 million. That’s what local governments would pay annually for the full Lakeland extension.
  • 5.2 million. That’s how many people are projected to live in the seven Central Florida counties by 2030, 800,000 more than in 2018.
  • 800,000. That’s how many cars a SunRail extension into Polk County would take off of roads per year — think: Fewer crashes and less greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 315,000. That’s the projected annual ridership for the extended line to Lakeland, starting in 2035.
  • 1. That’s what Polk County ranks among Florida’s fastest-growing counties.

The SunRail timeline

Now that you know the big numbers, here’s a timeline of the SunRail expansion conversation:

  • 2019 — FDOT began exploring options for commuter transportation to accommodate more residents.
  • 2021 — US Rep. Darren Soto proposed SunRail stops in Polk — fast forward to 2023, the county’s Transportation Planning Organization is still considering a SunRail expansion in Polk.
  • February 2023 — A feasibility study to explore options for extending SunRail’s line from its current southernmost point in Poinciana to Lakeland, aimed to:
    • Create cost effective investment
    • Ensure equitable mobility for all
    • Improve economic growth and access
    • Attract riders
    • Ensure environmental stewardship
    • Improve access to affordable housing
    • Ensure continued movement of goods
    • Enhance resiliency
    • Increase public awareness
  • March 2023 — Polk County hosted an online survey for residents to share their thoughts on locations, features, and more. With 4,800 responses, the survey made it clear that Polk County is pro SunRail.
  • October 2023 — FDOT’s SunRail extension study moved into the project development + environment phase.

What you need to know

Where would it stop?
SunRail may run through nearby cities like Davenport and Haines City before reaching Lakeland, where stops near the RP Funding Center and west of downtown Lakeland are being considered.

When would it be complete?
According to George Lindsey — a county commissioner and board chair who resides in Lakeland — an informed decision on the rail’s future in Polk most likely won’t be made for two to three years.

Why add commuter rail stops in Polk?
With a goal of increased connectivity and easier access to jobs similar to what larger metro areas offer, the commuter rail system has the potential to provide new modes of transportation to Polk County residents.

While we wait for a potential SunRail expansion, take a ride on one of Lakeland’s Amtrak trains.