Citrus Connection - Posner Park hub

The park-and-ride transfer hub in Posner Park, pictured above, is an important piece of Citrus Connection's plans in northeast Polk.

Citrus Connection, Polk County’s public transit agency, has announced a significant expansion in the northeast region of the county — one that includes connectivity to areas outside of the county.

Beginning Sept. 8, the agency will operate a park-and-ride transit hub out of Posner Park, as well as a handful of route upgrades.

“We’re finally catching up to support the population density that we’ve got (in northeast Polk),” explained Tom Phillips, the executive director for Citrus Connection. “There’s 118,000 (people) moving to the (area) in the next five years — that’s a city the size of lakeland. The growth of Polk is (there), so we need to support that.”

Phillips says the transfer facility has been in the works for years and finally came to fruition thanks, in part, to $7 million in federal funds the county received to help get people back to work — a portion of which is being designated for the transit agency.

The park-and-ride facility is located adjacent to the Posner Village shopping center, which is located southeast of the intersection of Interstate 4 and U.S. 27. The facility itself is located just east of the Beall’s Outlet retail store, near Ernie Caldwell Boulevard.

The hub will incorporate the existing Route 18X, which takes travelers from Posner Park to the intersection of U.S. 192 and Legacy Boulevard, in the heart of Four Corners.

It will also service two new routes, set to begin Sept. 20: Route 19X, which will take travelers east to the Poinciana SunRail station; and Route 20X, which will connect Haines City and Davenport to key stops along U.S. 27 and U.S. 17, on the way to and from Posner Park.

“We’re going to have, for the first time, bus-to-rail connectivity in Polk,” Phillips said, referencing the connectivity to the Poinciana SunRail station.

SunRail, a commuter rail service which ends at its Poinciana station to the south, travels north through downtown Orlando and up to DeBary.

Phillips also believes the expansion of services and the new hub could play a role down the road should the Brightline rail project — which aims to connect Miami to Orlando and, eventually, Tampa — seek a stop in Polk County.

“This gives us critical infrastructure so when Brightline comes … if they pick a stop on the Ridge, these are the types of services we want feeding into (a theoretical terminal),” Phillips said.

In addition to 15 new vehicles, the monies allocated to Citrus Connection for this latest expansion will also fund these routes for three years.

“That’s three years of getting people to and from work,” Phillips said. “We’ll know within a year which routes are working and which aren’t. We’ll tinker on the routes that aren’t working and then, halfway through the grant cycle, we’ll sit with the board and the cities and say ‘alright, which of these make sense to keep going or cut, if any?’”

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