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bobliocatt

High-Speed Rail Plan Hits a Bump

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LAKELAND -- It wasn't a good week for Florida's high-speed rail project.

Gov. Jeb Bush has enough votes in the Florida House and Senate to send the amendment creating a high-speed rail system back to the voters, legislative leaders said last week.

On Friday, opponents of highspeed rail began supporting their case with a letter sent to Bush by Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, a first-term legislator. The letter claims that high-speed rail projects carry excessive costs and low ridership.

But supporters of the bullet train say that the other side is exaggerating and that they will fight to save the constitutionally mandated project.

In an about-face from earlier statements made to two state newspapers, Speaker of the House Johnnie Byrd said that if the governor wants high-speed rail back on the ballot, the House will make it happen.

And Senate President Jim King said Tuesday that if an immediate vote were held in his chambers, a motion to send the amendment back would pass, but just barely.

A CLEAR MAJORITY APPROVED

Fifty-three percent of the voters in the 2000 general election approved an amendment to the Florida Constitution requiring the state to build a statewide high-speed rail system that would connect at least five metropolitan centers.

The amendment was placed on the ballot by Lakeland insurance investor C.C. "Doc" Dockery, who used $3 million of his own money. The move came just months after Bush had stopped a previous bullet-train project and moved the money into other programs.

Bush is opposed to the program, calling it too expensive. The project has caused a major schism between the governor and Dockery, who was one of his most ardent supporters and who stayed with him after his defeat by Lawton Chiles in 1994, working for his successful election in 1998.

Byrd and his predecessor, former speaker and now U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, tried at Bush's urging to pressure House members to stop the creation of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority and to send the issue back to the voters.

But the efforts failed.

PREPARATION FOR CONSTRUCTION

In the three years since the amendment's passage, the authority has been formed; the first route, between Tampa and Orlando, has been chosen and studied; and a builder/operator has been hired.

But last year, Bush vetoed new operating funds for the authority. Leftover funds and federal money kept the agency going.

Early this year, Bush sent a lengthy letter and documentation to both chambers of the Legislature asking those bodies to send the amendment back to the voters this fall.

The Legislature will convene March 2.

To put an amendment on the general election ballot, 60 percent of the 120-member House, or 72 members, must vote in favor.

Though the anti-bullet train forces appear to be closing in for the kill, supporters say it is not over yet.

Byrd, who is running for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate this year, told two newspapers earlier that he did not think the amendment would get out of the House and go to the voters again.

But when questioned by The Ledger on Tuesday, he replied, "I support the governor . . . My personal feeling about it is that high-speed rail is not something whose time has come. And so, I support the governor. If the governor wants to push it, he'll have a vote in the House, I believe."

The point is disputed by Dockery.

"I am absolutely surprised that (Byrd) claims he has the votes in the House," Dockery said last week, "because he had to move 14 people to his side earlier this week, and I don't think he could do that in such a short time.

"I can tell you he doesn't have the 72 votes," Dockery said.

Dockery also criticized the letter that Reagan sent to Bush, which listed what Reagan said were excessive cost figures for the bullet train.

In one portion of the letter, the Bradenton representative said the cost per mile of high-speed rail would be 27 cents, comparable to the cost of air travel. He said "preliminary data for April 2001 show the cost per mile was 7.4 cents for passenger cars and 9.2 cents for vans, SUVs and pickup trucks."

Even using gas prices of three years ago, Dockery said, Reagan's information was "ridiculous."

A SENATE RAIL DEFENDER

Part of the reason for the defeat of the high-speed rail opponents so far has been Dockery's wife, Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland. King said it is possible she will do it again.

"Sen. Dockery has some loyal support in the Senate, and she is able to make a case for her causes that is hard to ignore," King said during a gathering of news media editors and reporters in Tallahassee on Tuesday.

Sen. Dockery said that the Legislature does not have the votes to send the issue back. And even if it could, she hinted of repercussions.

"Since 2.9 million voters supported the vision of addressing our transportation gridlock, it seems unwise for the Legislature to suggest they were incapable of making an informed decision, especially in an election year," she said.

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Personally I think Florida strikes me as one place (besides the NE) where a network of high speed rail would be a success. Lots of tourists, lots of people move around between cities.

Hopefully Jeb will get out of the way and the high speed rail construction will get underway.

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Personally I think Florida strikes me as one place (besides the NE) where a network of high speed rail would be a success. Lots of tourists, lots of people move around between cities.

I agree. There are so many cities, and tons of tourists. It seems like about 10% of Michigan's population moves down to Florida for the winter. LOL.

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Hopefully, the High-Speed Rail would connect to each city's transit systems (i.e. Jax Skyway, Miami MetroRail). I don't want to take the train to a regular station, I'd rather take it to a multi-modal center and board another route to a downtown hotel.

If Jax gets a stop, it should be located near the Convention Center Skyway Station. But if Jax could get a rapid transit system connecting downtown to the airport, then the High-Speed Rail station should be located at the airport. Just my two-cents.

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Personally I think Florida strikes me as one place (besides the NE) where a network of high speed rail would be a success. Lots of tourists, lots of people move around between cities.

Hopefully Jeb will get out of the way and the high speed rail construction will get underway.

That is very true. Florida is very urban.

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The only problem is the State Government is controlled by people who are only interested in what benefits them & their wealthy friends financially, and rail isn't one of them, since many backers of the current administration are road contractors and asphalt paving companies.

If high speed rail goes back to the voters, I think the decision to elect our present governor should be sent back to the voters, as well.

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LOL...The Oldies only live in South Florida, and they shouldn't vote anyways, because they only live there in the winter! Seasonal Residents....

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