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Robert Trigaux

Fingers crossed, Tampa Bay abuzz with talk high-speed rail funding is coming Thursday



Wake up and good morning
. Florida is abuzz with the expected visit Thursday by both President Obama and Vice President Biden, who are scheduled to hold a town meeting at the University of Tampa, supposedly focused on jobs. Many here hope the visit also means an announcement Florida has won close to the $2.6 billion it seeks in federal funding for its proposed high-speed rail project that, initially, would connect Tampa to Orlando along the I-4 corridor.

As Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio told WUSF 89.7 radio: "I have heard from some individuals who are closer to the situation than I am that we are going to be the recipient of the monies for high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando."

Today's Wall Street Journalgives this idea -- Florida being a strong frontrunner for a rail project -- a good plug. In fact, the Journal article says the Obama administration's plan to award a total of $8 billion nationwide in stimulus funds for high-speed rail is "part of the administration's focus on jobs creation in coming weeks, and could be a boon for states and construction companies tied to high-speed rail."

So a town meeting "about jobs" at UT may fit perfectly with an unveiling of high-speed rail funding.

The Journal story (here 's the complete article) -- headlined Florida Likely To Win High-Speed Rail Grant-- also lays out underlying reasons why Florida may be in better shape than other states to grab a piece of this federal pie. The Transportation Department has spent the winter reviewing more than 250 applications for funds, including Florida, as well as projects in California, Illinois, Texas and along Amtrak's northeast corridor. Here are the story's main points:

1. The biggest recipients for funding may be states that have already invested heavily in rail and whose projects are closest to the construction phase. "Those factors could point to Florida as a likely recipient. The state is seeking about $2.6 billion in stimulus funds to build a rail line connecting Tampa and Orlando, a project that business leaders view as a key to luring new companies and jump-starting the Sunshine State's economy. Peak speeds could exceed 150 mph."

2. Florida has purchased land rights for the project and recently cleared a federal environmental review, clearing major hurdles that many other states haven't. The state also will contribute $570 million for the project, on top of other expenses already incurred. Project costs could total $3.5 billion.

3. Up to 23,000 jobs could be created with the stimulus funds, with construction starting as early as mid-2011 and project completion in 2015.

The state's application to the Federal Railroad Administration includes a request for funds to study a high-speed rail line connecting Orlando and Miami. As Gabe Sheheane of the Florida Chamber of Commerce told the Journal:

"Really what it does is connects regions together. Just to think about a day when getting to and from those three places is as easy as hopping on a train, and the businesses that come into a place around that, that will attract business long-term."

Florida hired HNTB Corp., a Missouri-based planning, design and construction management firm, to help with its application. HNTB has some strong views on the merit of rail systems as an economic driver.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:27am]


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