Florida Ahead of the Curve on High Speed Rail?
Florida may be poised to be the first stop for President Barack Obama’s vision of high speed rail connecting major U.S. cities, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos said Thursday at a St. Petersburg Beach transportation summit.
With her department having submitted a pre-application for $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money to build the first leg of a long-discussed Tampa-Orlando-Miami bullet train, Kopelousos said during an address at a three-day Transportation Summit hosted by Floridians for Better Transportation that the traffic signs from Washington, D.C. look good for the Sunshine State.
"If President Obama wants to see dirt turned for high-speed rail, Florida is the leading state," Kopelousos said.
The Florida high speed rail corridor was one of eight identified by the White House in April for the beginning of a national network. The Tampa-Orlando-Miami route is thought to be a prohibitive favorite for the stimulus money because much of the preliminary surveying had been done when the plan was approved by voters in 2000 and the Florida High Speed Rail Authority was created in 2002.
The high speed rail panel had been parked since 2005, after voters put the brakes on the plans for the bullet train after a push by former Gov. Jeb Bush, who said the state could not afford it. However, buoyed again this year by the possibility of receiving the stimulus money - without a requirement for matching funds from the state - the train talk has picked up speed this year.
But Kopelousos’ optimism about Florida’s prospects for high speed on Thursday were countered in an interview with the News Service of Florida by Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, who said the DOT’s stimulus application’s chance for success could be harmed by two others that accompanied it. Dockery said the other applications were not truly high-speed rail, which the stimulus set aside $8 billion for.
“It would seem like if they were serious about high speed rail, they would have done just that project and put all their eggs in one basket,” Dockery said. “They’re watering down their effort by putting in other projects that are not even related.”
The DOT submitted an application for $432 million for the controversial proposed SunRail Orlando commuter train alongside the application for construction of the Tampa-Orlando leg of the bullet train and a request for $70 million for "incremental" passenger service between Jacksonville and Miami that would operated by Amtrak.
If the high speed rail application is approved, Gov. Charlie Crist’s stimulus advisor Don Winstead told reporters this week that the money will also be used for engineering and environmental work for the Orlando-Miami portion of the line. However, Winstead disagreed with Dockery’s assessment that the other application would harm the high speed rail request, saying the requests were appropriately separated.