State lawmakers say CSX deal smells bad

04/01/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Last week, the state Department of Transportation said the price of purchasing 61 miles of CSX track near Orlando and relocating a rail yard to Winter Haven had increased by a third. The cost to taxpayer, originally estimated at $491-million two years ago, is now at supposed to cost $650-million.

It’s just the latest bit of questionable news for a project that was created in secrecy by Gov. Jeb Bush back in 2004. The money to pay for the project is to come from money previously earmarked for other transportation projects.

Mike Fasano, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee in Tallahassee, says this recent news is the latest in a series of dubious moves.

House Minority Leader Dan Gelber says that because of the sheer size of the deal, the CSX situation is casting a shadow over everything else that goes on in the Capitol.

CSX has said that the company is taking on additional risks by having passengers on a line previously used mostly for freight, and that’s why the company wants financial immunity from any crashes that might occur, even those involving the deaths of passengers.

Two weeks ago, the House Infrastructure Committee voted to give the trucking giant exactly that, which troubles Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

The February 2006 deal let CSX, which is selling railroad for the commuter service, determine what would be confidential under the state's public records exemption for trade secrets.

Last week, attorney Mark Walker sued the state over that confidentiality agreement.

Fasano says that aspect of the deal is also troubling.

Meanwhile, the governor's office has remained silent on the CSX-immunity deal.

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