Florida Secretary of Transportation Ananth Prasad announced July 1 that Gov. Rick Scott (R) has decided to allow Central Florida’s planned, nearly $1.3-billion commuter rail project, SunRail, to proceed to construction.

The governor’s office issued a brief statement: “Today, Gov. Rick Scott authorized Florida Dept. of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad to sign the Full Funding Grant Agreement to continue the process of implementing the SunRail project, as approved in the 2009 Special Legislative Session.”

Scott had suspended the project shortly after taking office earlier this year when he placed a hold on all state contracts valued at more than $1 million. A team consisting of Archer Western Contractors of Atlanta and RailWorks Track Systems of New York had been awarded a $168.1-million construction contract in 2010.

FDOT had originally anticipated a spring 2011 start for the project’s first phase, which would cover the 31-mile stretch running from DeBary, in Volusia County, west to the Sand Lake Road Station south of downtown Orlando. A second phase totaling 30 miles would extend the system from its western and eastern end points. This phase would extend SunRail westward from the Sand Lake Road station to Poinciana, south of Kissimee, and eastward from the DeBary station to Deland.

The state transportation department, which will oversee construction, expects the first phase to be operational by late 2013 or early 2014. According to SunRail.com, the second phase could be operational by 2015.

Twelve stations are planned for the first phase, and an additional five in the second phase. Also, twelve park-and-ride lots in outlying areas will be constructed.

The nearly $1.3-billion project total includes more than $1 billion in capital costs, plus an estimated $233.6 million in operations and maintenance costs, according to FDOT.

The federal government would pay $307.5 million for capital construction, and has committed to an additional $85.8 million for operations and maintenance costs over the system’s first 18 years of service. The state of Florida plans to spend nearly $585.8 million for capital expenses, and will pay roughly $65.9 million during the system’s first seven years of operations to subsidize operations.

The city of Orlando and the counties of Seminole, Orange, Osceola and Volusia have collectively committed to pay $153.9 million towards capital expenses, along with nearly $82 million for operations and maintenance after the first seven years.

Several companies have made commitments to the project. Florida Hospital has stated it will provide $3.5 million toward its own rail stop, and will subsidize ridership for all of its 17,000 employees.

In May, Rida Development Corp., developer of the Championsgate development in Osceola County, sent a letter to Gov. Scott stating its commitment to a transit-oriented development project in downtown Orlando that it estimates at between $175 million and $225 million. Marc Reicher, senior vice president of Rida, said the TOD project, targeted for a 5.6-acre site at 400 N. Orange Avenue, would include up to 350 hotel rooms, along with conference, office and retail space.