Florida High-Speed Rail supporters rally for federal funding listen08/18/09 Seán Kinane
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Many Florida elected officials, community groups, and business leaders are pushing for the state to construct only the second high-speed rail line in the country. Gatherings in Orlando, Lakeland, and Tampa today hoped to rally support for $2.5 billion of federal stimulus funding to connect those cities with 150 mile-per-hour train service.
According to U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, “Florida is ready to get moving. Florida is ready for high-speed rail.”
Castor stood on a balcony at Stetson University College of Law in downtown Tampa overlooking traffic on Interstate-275. As thunderstorms approached, the Democrat from Tampa was flanked by leaders from Orlando, Miami, and Tampa Bay. Castor hopes those three regions will ultimately be linked by a bullet train funded in part by the federal government.
In 2004, Florida voters repealed an amendment to the state’s constitution calling for a bullet train from Tampa to Orlando to Miami that had been added by the voters only four years earlier. But even that truncated head start gives Florida the edge over other regions, Castor says, because right-of-way and environmental permits have already been addressed.
Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik held up a t-shirt with the logo of ConnectUs. It’s a group he formed to rally support for high-speed rail that was publicly launched on Tuesday.
Ten members of Florida’s Congressional delegation sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in June encouraging him to award Florida high-speed rail funding. In July Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson wrote a letter to leaders of Florida’s Legislature asking for support for high-speed rail.
Mike Ketchum, with the Central Florida Partnership in the Orlando area, says ordinary people of the state should rally behind high-speed rail.
Even though the Miami area would not benefit directly from construction of the first leg, high-speed rail is strongly supported by Joe Giulietti, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
Both business and labor groups are on board with their support of high-speed rail. Henry Gonzalez is chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.
Bill Dever, president of the Gulf Coast Building Trades in Tampa, summed up in one word why organized labor supports high-speed rail: “Jobs.”
Representative Kathy Castor thinks the broad-based support in Florida for high-speed rail will help the state.
President Barack Obama will decide by December which communities will get funding for high speed rail.