Federal funding sought for high-speed Tampa-Orlando train
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11/20/09 Concetta DeLuco
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Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik pushed for a high speed rail system during a talk at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center early this afternoon, as part of the move to bring some major transit changes to the Tampa Bay area.

Florida has applied for funding for a high speed rail system that would connect Tampa to Orlando. One proponent for this new rail is former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik. In efforts to gain support for the move, Turanchik spoke to a small group of Tiger Bay Club members at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center this afternoon. He said that Florida is behind in transit now, but a high speed rail system will change that.

Turanchik is the founder of ConnectUs, an organization created solely for the push toward a high speed rail. The first phase of the new system will connect Tampa to Orlando. Turanchik said eventually the high speed rail or bullet train will connect Orlando to Miami and branch out to Jacksonville.

At 125 miles per hour the travel time between Orlando and Tampa is expected to be reduced to 38 minutes, and Turanchik said will cost somewhere around $12. Turanchik said the high speed rail will have environmental benefits: it will be electric, which will reduce the state’s carbon footprint. However, Turanchik said the positive aspects of the bullet train will expand beyond being a cheaper, more reliable source of transportation. The move to link Orlando to Tampa will create what he describes as a “super region.”

Turanchik said these changes are necessary, especially now, when the economy in Florida is struggling.

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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Obama in April 2009 provides $8 billion for states to develop high speed rail systems. Turanchik said Florida has already submitted an application for $2.6 billion of the stimulus money to fund the first leg of the bullet train system. However, at this point, Turanchik said it is not necessary for Florida to match federal funds with local funding.

Matching federal funds is a whole other issue when it comes to the light rail system. Earlier this month, the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners agreed to place a one penny sales tax referendum on the 2010 ballot. The tax, if passed, will fund a transit overhaul in the Tampa Bay area. Turanchik said the light rail in Tampa would complement the high speed rail and make both systems run more efficiently.

The only thing that stands in the way of Tampa receiving federal funding for the high speed rail, Turanchik said, are Sunrail and Tri-rail, the commuter rails that both Orlando and Miami are pushing to finance. Commuter rails are slower, diesel fueled, local rail transit.

If Tampa does receive federal funding for the high speed rail, Turanchik said work can begin on the project in as soon as 18 months and will be completed by 2014. He said the impact will exceed beyond Tampa.

Turanchik said a special session of the Florida legislature may be called to further discuss the move toward rail funding.

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