High-speed rail supporters call for citizens to lobby president listen01/12/10 Seán Kinane
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Today at Tampa’s Union Station, about forty proponents of high-speed rail unveiled their new campaign to lobby the president for stimulus funding. The rail supporters, including Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, hope citizens will ask Barack Obama to award Florida part of $8 billion in stimulus funding for a bullet train from Tampa to Orlando.
The union, business, environmental, and political leaders on hand are confident that Florida’s request for $2.5 billion will be awarded, but say that contacting the president can only help. Based on body language he has picked up from administration officials, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson predicts that Florida will find out it will get a grant for high-speed rail before the president’s state of the union address in about three weeks.
Nelson did not say where the rest of the funds would come from if Florida only received part of the grant. A new cable television ad will premier tomorrow that gives instructions for how Floridians can text their support for rail and get contact information for the White House. Nelson says the rail project is important because it will create 23,000 jobs. That’s why the president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Mark Wilson, supports high-speed rail in the state.
When the Florida Legislature passed funding for central Florida’s commuter rail line called SunRail, many observers thought that would help the state’s efforts to win high speed rail funding. That includes Tampa-area U.S. Representative Kathy Castor.
One criticism of high-speed rail is that because the technology does not yet exist in the U.S., the funds may actually stimulate the economy of another country that already builds high-speed trains, like Spain. Senator Nelson concedes that other countries are ahead of the United States in high-speed rail, but he feels this country can develop home-grown technologies.
But will people ride the bullet train if it’s built? Gorg Hernandez was about to take the Amtrak train from Tampa to his home in West Palm Beach. He also rides trains when he visits his family in Spain. Hernandez hopes Florida does get a bullet train because he feels train travel is faster and cheaper than driving a car. “In Europe, we have many, many trains.”
Ed Turanchik, president of the pro-rail group ConnectUS, read letters of support from Governor Charlie Crist and Senator George Lemieux, who could not attend.