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Disney World’s Meg Crofton Busks for Commuter Rail

Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton is committed to the Orlando community. Her position gives her real power to make a difference in the lives of many people. Plus, having a strong community from which to draw employees is a key business need for Walt Disney World Resort, so it’s all good.

A few years ago Disney lobbied for a state wide high speed rail. Sadly it went down to defeat by those who don’t believe in the power of its economic engine. With stimulus checks coming out of Washington DC shortly, hopefully the state will take another look at High Speed Rail.

But in the meantime there is SunRail. A commuter rail line trying to lay down some tracks in Central Florida. As you might expect Meg and Disney are on board with its potential as well. The following editorial appeared in the Orlando Sentinel this morning.

February 3, 2009 — Orlando Sentinel
My Word Column, Meg Crofton

As the leader of a business that employs more than 60,000 Central Floridians, I find a lot to like about SunRail. It will provide another way for commuters to reach their jobs. It will open new access to existing businesses. And it will help bring new businesses here.

All of these are important. But one thing that might not be so obvious is how SunRail is going to improve something Central Florida is already famous for — our quality of life.

At Disney, we believe stories have the power to paint pictures of what might be. Let me tell you a story — a story about Central Florida as it might look with SunRail, just a few years from now:

It’s 2012. Our elected officials, our businesses and our community leaders have all worked together. Because of that diligence, SunRail is now a reality.

We are in Winter Park, and as we walk down Park Avenue, it’s not yet 8 in the morning, but there are people on the street.

That’s because coffeehouses and restaurants, barber shops and salons, bookstores and other businesses are taking advantage of the foot-traffic heading to the station.

The train comes in, and we take our seats and exchange greetings with a retired couple who are taking their grandkids to a museum.

Around the modern and quiet car, some riders are reading their newspapers, but many have laptops open, because SunRail will have WiFi Internet access.

The woman across from us is online and paying her utility bill, while the student next to her researches a term paper. They are using what used to be “dead time”
— their morning commute — to attend to the details of life.

These might be people who previously had to stretch their budgets to maintain an extra car just for this commute. Now that money is going into savings for college, or a vacation, or a down payment on a new home. They are more comfortable. Their lives are better.

As the train runs south, we notice construction — not urban sprawl at the edge of built-up areas, but old and dilapidated structures being replaced with vibrant new businesses. SunRail has become a conduit, carrying consumers into areas the interstate passed by. The entire region has a vitality that is absolutely palpable.

That night, after we’ve taken SunRail home, we enjoy dinner at a favorite local restaurant before going to a game downtown. We can socialize as we travel, and parking is not a concern; the station is just a short walk from the venue.

That’s what life here could be like just a few years from now.

I appreciate Interstate 4 and its tremendous capacity for moving people to and through our downtown area. And like most Central Florida employers, I’m grateful for transportation alternatives such as Lynx. But SunRail is a vital third element to this picture.

A functioning and modern urban area needs a great highway system. It needs an extensive bus network.

And it needs commuter rail.

Meg Crofton is president of Walt Disney World.

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