Lakeland weighs possible high-speed rail station locations

01/27/11 Kate Bradshaw
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A year ago, almost to the day, President Obama announced the federal government was giving over a billion dollars in stimulus funds to Florida for a high speed rail line from Tampa to Orlando. That number has since grown, but the new governor has been vocal about his reluctance to accept it. But that didn’t stop dozens of stakeholders from meeting in Lakeland last night to discuss where that city’s high speed rail station should go.

If it gets built, the bullet train would launch from Orlando International Airport, head to International Drive, then make a bee line toward Walt Disney World at a speed likely to top 168 miles per hour. From there it would barrel toward Lakeland before heading for its western terminus, which would likely be Downtown Tampa. It’s that second-to-last stop’s exact location that was a bone of contention yesterday in Lakeland. Nazih Haddad is Chief Operating Officer with Florida Rail Enterprise, the company overseeing the project. He said they’re looking at five options for Lakeland’s high speed rail station.

The most expensive of these options would be Kathleen Road. Haddad said that’s where the rail line would have to be elevated to avoid several bridges.

According to Florida High Speed Rail Enterprise, the Kathleen Road station was also the one with the least potential environmental impact. The ones with the greatest impact were the three proposed near land slated for a new USF Polytechnic campus. Melvin Brown, an environmental consultant with the company, said a station built there would encroach on wetlands and by virtue of its size would have a greater overall impact.

Phil Compton, Regional Representative with the Sierra Club, said that area also sits dangerously near to Green Swamp, a designated Area of Critical State Concern. The area is a vital water source for Florida’s rivers and a key aquifer recharge site.

Still, the USF Polytechnic site seemed to be the most popular choice among public officials. Ed Smith is a Polk County Commissioner.

During public comment, James Chapman said those who think the proposed USF Polytechnic station will become a booming population center overnight need to remember there’s not much there at the moment.

The Sierra Club supports Polk Parkway option. John Ryan, an activist with that organization, said there are quite a few reasons for this.

Ryan added that wherever the station goes, there needs to be a w means for wildlife, including the imperiled Florida panther, to safely get from one side of the tracks to the other.

Florida High Speed Rail is accepting public comment on the proposed Lakeland High Speed Rail station sites through February 11.

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