High-speed rail group says special session should focus on matching funds
As Florida lawmakers spar about whether to hold a special session on transportation to increase the state's chances of winning stimulus funding for high-speed rail, one of the most vocal advocates of the project says they misunderstand what would really help the state's chances. Ed Turanchik, co-founder of ConnectUs, a grass roots organization pushing for funding for high-speed rail, says the session should include a discussion of state matching funds for the bullet train.
“First and foremost, the special session should provide and make it clear that Florida will match between 10 and 20 percent of the capital costs for the high-speed rail connecting Orlando to Miami and extensions to Jacksonville," said Turanchik, a former Hillsborough County commissioner. “That’s what the federal government wants to know.”
The discussion so far has focused on approving the SunRail commuter line in Central Florida and funding for Tri-Rail in South Florida as a way to get a piece of the $8 billion of federal stimulus money earmarked for high-speed rail lines throughout the country. Florida has applied for a $2.6 billion piece of that pie to build a line connecting Tampa to Orlando. The stimulus money doesn't require any state matching funds. But Turanchik said the feds are looking at Florida's entire proposed system and need to know if the first leg is built that the state will help pay for the remainder.
“The SunRail people are grabbing on this to get SunRail done. The Tri-Rail people are grabbing on this to get Tri-Rail done. And the core of the issue is a match to go build Orlando to Miami," Turanchik said. The commuter rail issues are largely "tangential," he said.
So far, Turanchik said he doesn't have a state lawmaker ready to push the high-speed rail match concept. "We'll see where it goes," he said.
Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer