Monday, March 16, 2009

Florida Snoozes on Regional Rail

Florida is the nation's fourth largest state. It has sizable metropolitan areas in the north (Jacksonville), south (Miami - Fort Lauderdale - West Palm Beach), central region (Orlando) and west coast (Tampa - St. Petersburg). Yet it is considered a laggard in developing regional rail, and some officials fear its tardiness could cost it opportunities to tap federal aid, according to the Sarasota Times-Herald.

Although 30 years ago state lawmakers promised to build a network of commuter lines, only one, Tri-Rail, which runs from Miami to West Palm Beach, is in operation. A second line, SunRail, which would serve the Orlando area, has been waiting for the legislature to sign off on the project for two years.
“What’s amazing to me is the federal government just looks at Florida and they just shake their heads,” said Jeff Koons is a Palm Beach County commissioner and longtime member of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority that runs Tri-Rail. “You need leadership and we just don’t have it."
The problem is a mix of money issues and parochialism. State legislatures are loathe to ask their constituents to pay for a commuter rail system on the other side of the state.
“The bottom line is that people in my district, if ever one or two of them use Tri-Rail, it’ll be few and far between,” said Sen. Mike Fasano, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations committee who is from New Port Richey north of Tampa. “Why would the people in my district or the Panhandle or Jacksonville have to pay for a train system they’ll never use and that’s in the red?”
Meanwhile, as Florida sleeps the federal money that could have gotten more regional rail lines off the ground is going to Utah, North Carolina and New Mexico.

2 comments:

  1. Like myself, Ellis, you are also an "ol' Florida hand', and in all likelihood are aware that any County desiring rail passenger service, must establish a permanent funding base by means of excise taxes, i.e. "Sales Tax' or Motor fuel Tax. I'm not sure if ad valorem taxation, i.e. Real Estate and tangible or intangible Personal Property, can also be used as such, but even if they can be, it still does not upset the requirement of a local-level funding base. As a result initiatives must move forth "County by County'.

    While it would appear that Tri-Rail patronage could be enhanced by a Northward extension along the FEC to Stuart or even Northwesterly along the Amtrak/SAL route to Indiantown, the people of Martin County have declined to impose any taxes that would qualify for a funding of Tri-Rail. Therefore, Tri-Rail remains constrained to the three original participating counties of Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade.

    The Central Florida initiative through Orlando, which is "in the works", and presently includes only Orange and Osceola Counties, and is controlled by the same provisions affecting Tri-Rail.

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  2. Then tell the state to get out of the business of funding highways and make the counties pay for it all.

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