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St. Petersburg council declines to join high-speed rail debate

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council on Thursday rejected a bid to be included in any discussions involving a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando.

By a vote of 4 to 3, the council defeated a resolution proposed by council member Karl Nurse to participate in the discussions among those cities that are trying to revive an effort to build a rail line along the Interstate 4 corridor.

The four council members who voted against the resolution said they believed St. Petersburg officials already had done all they could to help get the rail line built — only to be cut out of the discussion last year.

"We can only pucker up so much," said council member Bill Dudley.

Mayor Bill Foster contended that as long as the rail line stops at Tampa, it's "a boondoggle" because it won't take tourists to Pinellas County's beaches. He vowed not to participate in any further discussions unless the line is extended farther than Tampa.

Originally the line was to be built by the state Department of Transportation, financed by $2.4 billion from the federal government. But Gov. Rick Scott rejected the federal money, contending the rail line would not attract enough ridership and that state taxpayers could be forced to cover shortfalls.

Afterward a Transportation Department report projected that the rail likely would have shown a $10.2 million operating surplus in 2015, its first year of operation.

Now officials from Tampa, Lakeland, Orlando — and Miami, according to Nurse — are trying to work out a deal to get the federal money.

"The federal government wants to give us this money," Nurse contended. He said after the meeting that he proposed the resolution because "I don't think you give up until the game is over. I think you play the last card."

The cities would still need Scott's cooperation, council member Jeff Danner pointed out. The right of way along the interstate belongs to the state — and Scott reiterated his opposition last week, telling reporters, "We're past high-speed rail."

St. Petersburg council declines to join high-speed rail debate 03/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 17, 2011 10:32pm]
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