Photo courtesy Florida Dept. of Transportation Rail Promoters FDOT District 5 Secretary Noranne Downs and Rep. John Mica led the celebratory project kickoff, held in Altamonte Springs.

After enduring Gov. Rick Scott's suspension of contracts and consequent year-long delay to the start of construction, local, state and federal officials celebrated the survival of their prized $1.3-billion SunRail project with a project kickoff in late January. Actual construction of the commuter rail system won't be far behind, with initial sitework set to start in early February, says April Heller, public information officer with the Florida Dept. of Transportation

Florida Secretary of Transportation Ananth Prasad credited local support for the project's survival, saying, "Your grass-roots support for this critical project has made SunRail a reality."

But it was Democratic congresswoman Corinne Brown of Orlando who gave credit for the project to its most powerful champion, local congressman Rep. John Mica (R-Winter Park), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Without him, she said, SunRail "would not have been a reality."

Mica lobbied for Gov. Scott's approval and even defended the controversial project from criticism in The New York Times, saying, "There is no more cost-effective solution to provide near-term relief to the region's increasing highway congestion."

The 61-mile-long rail system, to be built on existing lines along the Interstate 4 corridor, will provide commuter service from the counties of Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola.

A joint venture of Archer Western Contractors, Tampa, and RailWorks Track Systems, New York City, holds the $168.1-million design-build phase-one contract covering a 31-mile segment running from DeBary in Volusia County to Sand Lake Road in Orlando.

The team's contract includes double-tracking, signal improvements, station platforms, parking lots and an operations control center. SunRail should be up and providing "revenue service" by spring 2014, Heller adds.

Archer Western also holds a $27.5-million contract to build seven of the 12 stations included in phase one. A second contract covering the remaining five stations, estimated at $18 million, will be advertised to bid in March.

Yet to be determined are the bid dates for the operations-and-maintenance contract, estimated at $233.6 million, and the phase-two design-build contract, not yet estimated. This 30-mile phase will extend the system westward from the Sand Lake Road station to Poinciana in Osceola County; and, in Volusia County, eastward from the DeBary station to Deland.

The federal government is paying $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 city of Orlando and the counties of Seminole, Orange, Osceola and Volusia have committed to pay $153.9 million for capital costs and, to subsidize operations, an additional $82 million for operations and maintenance over the first seven years.