Florida lawmakers OK high-speed rail

| 12/10/2009

The Florida Legislature wrapped up a special session this week after approving a three-part rail package. It is expected to be signed into law.

Intended to transform the Florida’s transportation policy, the bill creates a new agency responsible for all passenger rail in the state. It also allots more funds for the Tri-Rail line in South Florida and enough money to buy 61 miles of tracks from CSX Transportation for a rail project in metro Orlando, dubbed SunRail.

On a 27-10 vote, Senate lawmakers voted to send House Bill 1-B to Gov. Charlie Crist for his signature. The House approved it earlier in the week by an 84-25 vote margin.

The measure is intended to show the federal government Florida’s commitment to public transportation. The state is seeking $2.6 billion in stimulus money for a high-speed corridor from Tampa to Orlando and from Orlando to Miami. The U.S. Department of Transportation has about $8 billion available for high-speed rail projects.

Among the benefits to the SunRail project that supporters have touted is the removal of vehicles that fill an estimated one lane of Interstate 4 during weekday rush hours. The anticipated number of construction projects along the route also was hyped.

“Florida’s economy and our people need the boost that commuter rail can bring to our state,” Crist said in a statement. “Creating more transportation alternatives means more jobs and more opportunities for economic development that can generate millions of dollars in revenue.”

One rough spot for the bill was eventually smoothed out, which was determining who is responsible for any wrecks on the SunRail. Lawmakers agreed on a “no fault” indemnification agreement that would have the state and CSX responsible for their own equipment, workers and passengers.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Florida in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.