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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist gives CSX rail purchase a push

4

February

Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday enthusiastically endorsed a $1.2 billion state purchase of 61.5 miles of CSX-owned rail line to build a commuter train and freight transfer system in traffic-choked Central Florida. Flanked by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and local legislators, Crist said the CSX deal, known as Sunrail, would provide a positive jolt to Florida's economy, improve the environment and reduce traffic congestion.

"Who could be against Sunrail?" Crist asked at a press conference. "It's a wonderful thing to do. This time, we're going to make it go." Dyer said the project is a triumph of regional cooperation, a stimulant to the wheezing economy and an example of "smart growth," with 17 planned stops along a north-south corridor between DeLand and Poinciana.

Who could be against it? Sen. Paula Dockery, for one. The Lakeland Republican sent Crist a letter calling the project a costly handout to CSX that would multiply the number of long, loud trains rumbling through downtown Lakeland. "People are tired of giveaways and corporate welfare," Dockery wrote to Crist. The Florida AFL-CIO also restated its strong opposition, saying the venture was conceived in secret, with too little public input.

The state DOT has an agreement to acquire CSX's tracks, and the money is in the budget. But the deal died in the state Senate in 2008 when trial lawyers raised questions about legal liability and mounted well-organized opposition. This year, Senate supporters led by Republicans Lee Constantine and Andy Gardiner say the bill (SB 1212) will be modified to assuage trial bar concerns.

Crist's endorsement, while not a surprise, won't end controversy over the deal. In a bleak session in which legislators face up to another $4 billion in cuts to essential services, some critics will question whether building a commuter rail line is an example of misplaced priorities. Advocates say Florida faces the loss of federal money for the project if delays persist.

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[Last modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 4:18pm]

    

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