1/26/2010: It appears that the state of Florida might be on a bit of a roll when it comes to rail, especially if you believe the latest rumor that President Barack Obama is going to announce the state's victory in the high-speed rail stakes this week.
Let's catch up with the latest: In December, Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law legislation that partially funds SunRail, a $1.2-billion, 61-mile commuter rail project in Central Florida. The state legislature had approved the legislation during a speedy special session focused on rail that Gov. Crist had convened.
And everyone was pleased, because that meant the state, having shown its commitment to rail, would now certainly receive its more than $2 billion in stimulus funds for its proposed high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. Except for the Florida Transportation Builders Association, which had some serious concerns about Florida's proposal, which relies strictly on a public-private partnership to build and operate the Tampa-Orlando line, and commits "minimal" state funding to the project.
“If there’s a new revenue source for high-speed rail ... we can live with that,” Robert G. Burleson, president of the FTBA in Tallahassee, told Southeast Construction. “If [a potential subsidy] is supposed to come out of the current dollars that we have, then I just don’t see how it’s feasible. Given the big budget deficit that the state faces, there are going to be tremendous pressures to take money out of the transportation trust fund.”
Nevertheless, it looks like Florida may be at the front of the line to receive some of those federal rail dollars. On Thursday, the day after he gives his annual State of the Union speech--which supposedly will include a major focus on jobs--President Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden, will visit Tampa for a town-hall meeting. Though the White House remains mum on any announcement to be made at that event, Florida politicos are starting to count those federal rail dollars. The timing fits with the supposed schedule for an announcement regarding the federal rail funding, and with the president's supposed refocusing on jobs, Again, here is a link to a story from the Orlando Sentinel about the possible meaning of President Obama's Thursday visit.
We'll keep you posted on further developments.