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All Aboard: Rail Gains Momentum

The momentum for a high-speed rail line between Orlando, Tampa and Miami got another boost recently when business leaders from Tampa traveled to Orlando to endorse the project's application for federal funds.

About $8 billion is available in federal stimulus money that has been set aside for high-speed rail. President Obama is expected to decide by December which projects will be funded.

The Florida project would connect Tampa, Orlando and Miami with a 361-mile high-speed rail system. Florida plans to ask for $2.53 billion to build the Orlando-Tampa segment and design the Orlando-Miami segment.

Hillsborough County commissioners put a 1-cent sales tax increase for mass transit and road improvements on the ballot in November 2010. The commission voted 5-2 to have the county attorney draw up a resolution that would indicate the commission's support for putting the referendum on the ballot.

The commission will vote on the resolution at the Dec. 2 meeting. Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos called Florida's high-speed rail project "the model for the rest of the country, a real showcase for the state."

Stuart Rogel, president and chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Partnership, called the project, "a major driver in the future economic prosperity of our state and the Tampa Bay region."

Followers of rail believe that although many systems do not pay for themselves, they can help guide development and prevent urban sprawl. Also, unlike highways, they do not require as much right of way, which is expensive. Rail is also better for the environoment because it reduces auto emissions.

A grassroots advocacy organization, ConnectUs, is led by Ed Turanchik, a former Hillsborough County commissioner and Olympics supporter.

Dave Szymanski, a Tampa-based journalist, likes running 5ks, other sports and writing poetry. Comments?
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