Jim Harrison, LYNX CEO and top Orange County staffer for roads and growth, has died

Jim Harrison, LYNX CEO and top Orange County staffer for roads and growth, has died

Harrison, who was named LYNX CEO in April 2019, was known as a straight shooter and strong advocate for public transportation.
August 12, 2022

By Stephen Hudak and Kevin Spear | Orlando Sentinel

James “Jim” E. Harrison, one of Orange County top and ever-present bureaucrats, assigned for decades to roads, public transportation and growth, and more recently the appointed leader at the LYNX bus system, died unexpectedly Friday morning. He was 63.

Serving under several Orange County mayors, Harrison was an Orange County government lifer, a familiar face at transportation agencies, including MetroPlan, the SunRail commission, the airport authority and the Central Florida Expressway Authority, and as a liaison with numerous local governments of Central Florida.

“He had the personality to get along with everybody and build coalitions,” said Teresa Jacobs, who met him while opposing a road project in west Orange.

She fought off tears recalling Harrison’s counsel and their friendship which spanned more than 16 years, including Jacobs’ eight years as a county commissioner and her two terms as Orange County mayor when transportation challenges grew with the area’s population.

“He was in the thick of everything,” said Jacobs, chair of the Orange County School Board since 2016.

Deeply into his career, Harrison earned a law degree from Barry University School of Law, adding a diploma to a resume that included a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s in applied economics, both from the University of Central Florida.

During his LYNX stint, Harrison navigated a bus system through a collapse in ridership because of COVID-19.

Though a lifelong achiever, who had the ears of mayors and other elected officials behind the scenes, his style in public settings was to speak briefly, avoid drawing attention to himself and to manage tensions with diplomacy.

“Jim is a true public servant,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, describing his work with Harrison as an honor and privilege.

“He delayed his retirement and stepped in to serve as LYNX CEO because of his dedication and commitment to our community,” Dyer said. “Through his leadership, he helped address some of our community’s toughest challenges as it relates to furthering transportation options, ensuring access during the global pandemic and enhancing operations while addressing budget and labor challenges.

Harrison’s climb through Orange County government was swift and intertwined with addressing land use and mobility, a hyper challenging task in the environment of Central Florida’s exploding growth.

He was assigned to some of the county’s toughest issues, from sidewalk shortages to traffic congestion, and from helping to launch a commuter train to positioning LYNX to run a commuter-train system, SunRail.

“I think every positive project in Central Florida related to transportation has Jim’s fingerprints on it,” said former Orange County commissioner Jennifer Thompson.

In 1993, Harrison was assistant manager of the Orange County engineering department in 1993, county public works director in 2003 and deputy, interim and permanent director of growth management in 2005.

He continued as chief negotiator on commuter rail in 2007, top transportation administrator in 2009, director of mobility in 2012, interim leader of LYNX in 2019 and then the chief executive officer of the bus agency later that year.

“Jim was a valued, respected colleague who stepped in to lead LYNX at just the right time,” said Gary Huttmann, executive director of MetroPlan Orlando. “He was a perceptive and thoughtful individual who always had words of wisdom to share. I’ll deeply miss his input and advice. The whole Central Florida transportation industry will miss him.”

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