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Florida High Speed Rail Thread

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This is where I plan to post all information regarding the controversial Florida High Speed Rail system. For more in depth about Florida's high speed rail, go to:


Route Map


click here for ridership study numbers, and information regarding Phase 1 (Tampa-Orlando)......*your computer must have Adobe Acrobat to view pdf file*


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Published Monday, March 22, 2004

Train Fight Could Affect Race for Governor in 2006

Did Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher endanger his longtime dream of running for governor in 2006? Or did he just get an offer he couldn't refuse from a governor bent on retaliating against a former friend who crossed him?

Gallagher stood shoulder to shoulder with Gov. Jeb Bush three weeks ago and was announced as the chairman of Bush's latest kill-the-train attempt.

Of course, it is couched in terms of sending the issue of high-speed rail back to voters to see whether they really meant to spend money on the project.

The train opponents have implied, while being careful not to say it directly, that such projects as KidCare and student-teacher ratios might be affected by the cost of the train. The High Speed Rail Authority counters that it can use only annual payments from the Transportation Trust Fund to repay a 30-year bond issue.

Opponents have also been talking about delays for key road expansions, some of which are under construction and all of which have been budgeted.

Now the literature says "could delay road projects like . . ." but without a careful and meticulous read, the casual reader might think those are the projects being delayed. They are not.

Supporters of the bullet train have wondered privately whether one reason behind the anti-rail campaign is the governor's reputation, real or imagined, that he doesn't like any of his decisions to be questioned, and instead of working out compromises, he bullies his way through.

When he took office in 1999, Bush stopped a high-speed rail project that had been in the planning stages two decades.

Lakeland insurance investor and staunch Bush supporter C.C. "Doc" Dockery, who had chaired the Florida High Speed Rail Commission under Republican Gov. Bob Martinez, used $3 million of his own money a year and a half later to get an amendment to Florida's Constitution requiring that a high-speed rail system be built by the state.

It passed 53 percent to 47 percent.

Dockery was appointed to serve on the new Florida High Speed Rail Authority by thenSenate President John McKay. The Senate, where his wife, Sen. Paula Dockery, has been able to hold the line, has so far refused to send the amendment back to the voters.

The governor has chosen to go the petition route with Gallagher leading the charge to get enough signatures to place the highspeed rail issue back on the ballot.

In the meantime, Dockery has been giving money to the campaigns of legislative candidates who favor a high-speed rail system.

He is also lining up money from other supporters of highspeed rail. Not a good deal for someone on the opposite end of the issue.

There are potential problems for Gallagher. Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings may challenge him for the Republican nomination for governor in two years. And Attorney General Charlie Crist almost certainly will.

So where would the 53 percent of the voters who approved the high-speed rail amendment in 2000 put their votes in the next governor's race?

Two months ago Bush ordered all those Republicans considering a run at governor in 2006 to stop networking and planning their 2006 election campaigns until after the re-election race of President Bush.

The presidential election is Nov. 2, the same day the highspeed rail amendment will be on the ballot should it garner enough petition signatures.

If Dockery money and influence starts flowing to a highspeed rail supporter, or at least gets diverted from Gallagher for his role in derailing the train, Gallagher could find himself in the cold.

And after shutting down the GOP gubernatorial hopefuls, the question now is why is the governor taking such a chance in his brother's re-election year over what almost seems like a personal grudge match against those who want high-speed rail service in the state?

As Florida High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Fred Dudley said, there is nothing in the amendment to prevent setting a limit on what the state will spend on the rail.

Even Dockery has shown willingness to protect the state's general budget against an unexpected drain of funds from the project, which now has a builder and an operator, a route and preliminary engineering studies for the first leg of the route from Orlando to Tampa.

But the governor is adamant.

If the issue does get back on the ballot and rail supporters run a campaign such as "Bush thinks you are stupid and sent it back to you" or "He doesn't think you knew what you were voting on," would that affect his brother's re-election bid in Florida?

Gallagher's office sent out news releases under the gleeful, all-capital-letters title: "BUSH, GALLAGHER JOIN FORCES TO DERAIL BULLET TRAIN."

But like Newton's apple, that "equal and opposite force" could also derail something else in the process.

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Published Wednesday, March 31, 2004


Plans for Bullet Train Continuing despite opposition from the governor, supporters remain hopeful for success

By Bill Rufty

The Ledger

TALLAHASSEE -- In the three years since Florida voters mandated a high-speed rail system, the rail system's fortunes in the Florida Legislature often have seemed to roll forward a mile and then backtrack a half-mile.

Despite opposition from Gov. Jeb Bush and many legislators, plans for the system survive and continue to move forward.

This year, opponents failed to win the three-fifths vote in the Florida House needed to send the measure back to voters in the hope they would repeal it.

But Bush's effort to secure enough voter signatures to put high-speed rail back on the ballot is continuing, with Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher raising money to hire a company to collect the signatures and run a campaign to defeat high-speed rail.

In the meantime, life goes on for supporters of the bullet train. Fluor, one half of Fluor Bombardier, the joint vendor hired to build the first rail link from Tampa to Orlando, has its own lobbyist working with Beth Gosnel, who is the lobbyist for the Florida Transportation Association.

That association, funded in part by C.C. "Doc" Dockery of Lakeland, who spent $3 million of his own money to get the highspeed rail amendment on the ballot in 2000, is working to get the Legislature to free up money to begin building the first phase, which could have a stop in Lakeland as well as Disney.

Even with those two stops, supporters say the train will travel from the Orlando International Airport to downtown Tampa in at least 46 minutes.

The Florida High Speed Rail Authority requested $72 million to begin construction. The House has budgeted $32 million, but with a "poison pill" saying that the money must come from new road construction money.

"That is ridiculous," said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. "That should come from gasoline tax revenues the same as other transportation projects like mass transit and airports. This was done to kill the appropriation, but it won't work."

Sen. Paula Dockery, also RLakeland and Doc Dockery's wife, is protecting the train in the Senate. She agreed with Ross that the House's poison pill wouldn't work.

"It was done last year, too," she said. "It is meant to pit us against the road builders and the road builders aren't buying it."

In the Senate budget bill, which senators are expected to pass later this week, there is $9 million for the high-speed rail -$4 million for construction and $5 million for stations, like Lakeland, and for connecting light-rail systems.

Earlier Tuesday, Ross was able to remove a tax break the Legislature had given to people building related businesses near the rail system. It was the excuse Bush gave last year for vetoing the Florida High Speed Rail Authority's $7.3 million.

"We were simply addressing the governor's concerns to get a change in the high-speed rail rules that exempted those who would be building concessions and such related to the rail from the sales tax. Now I am sure he will have no trouble with the appropriation this year," Ross said, with a strained straight face.

But while Bush and Gallagher are working hard to kill the bullet train, supporters think they can hold on.

"There has been no movement to fully fund the high-speed rail, which the voters of Florida directed the state to do, but the engineering work is ongoing," Sen. Dockery said. "I think the leaders here who write the budgets are waiting to see what the governor's results will be, but until that time, they have been out of compliance with a constitutional mandate.

"But if there is any doubt, the high-speed rail is a long way from being dead," she said.

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6 April 2004

Fight to Save Bullet Train Hits Net With `Rail Truth'

Keith Rupp, the Lakeland advertising executive who is also president of the Florida Transportation Association, was in Tallahassee last week promoting the group's new Web site aimed at combating negative comments about the high-speed rail project.

The association was organized by high-speed rail supporter C.C. "Doc" Dockery as a citizens' group solely concentrating, at least for the moment, on getting a bullet train built in Central Florida.

"We are concerned that every time the governor or (Chief Financial Officer Tom) Gallagher say something that is not true about high-speed rail that we must answer with the truth of the situation right away." Rupp said.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who says the bullet train will be too expensive to build, recruited Gallagher to help him stop high-speed rail. Bush wants to send the issue back to the voters.

Rupp's group has created what he calls an "Internet truth squad" to respond to attacks against the train by Bush's people.

Rail supporters said they were incensed when Bush and Gallagher recently used a "Capitol for a Day" program as bully pulpits to speak against the mandated high-speed rail system.

The Internet site lists claims made by opponents that bullet train supporters think are "Off the Track" and then lists "The Rail Truth."

An example:

"Off the Track: This rail initiative will deter our ability to invest in the priorities a majority of Floridians believe." -- Gov. Jeb Bush

"The Rail Truth: Actually, a clear majority of Floridians supported high-speed rail; 53 percent of the voters in 2000 decided it was important enough to make high-speed rail part of the state constitution. Moreover, funding for this project will not affect any other priorities. Funding would come only from less than 1.5 percent of the state transportation budget that was already designated for high-speed rail."

It's a good move for reaching those voters with computers, but what high-speed rail supporters might want to concentrate on are the hundreds of people hired by the firm that Bush and Gallagher are using to collect the signatures needed to put the measure back on the ballot.

Saturday, during Springtime Tallahassee, an annual event of parade, crafts market and entertainment, two people collecting signatures told would-be signers, "It's just to get it on the ballot so everyone can vote on the bullet train."

One was told, "But I am in favor of the bullet train."

He replied, "Well this is the only way you can get a bullet train. You have to get it on the ballot."

He was confused when told 53 percent of the voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2000 requiring the state build the train and that there already is a Florida High Speed Rail Authority, which has contracted with a vendor to build the train.

Both signature takers said they are paid a dollar per signature.

Donations to the Bush campaign to get the measure back on the ballot and then defeat it are coming largely from Orlando tourist attractions and hotels that are upset because the bullet train will stop at Disney and not the Orange County Convention Center.

The Florida Transportation Association's Web site is www.floridabullettrain.com.

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