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Thomas: Clearwater should be rail stop

If there's going to be high-speed rail in Tampa Bay, it might as well make a stop in Pinellas County. And if it's going to snake through Pinellas County, then what better destination than Clearwater?

That makes perfect sense to City Commissioner Fred Thomas, who is a proponent of the high-speed rail. Following a presentation by resident Dan Brockway, Thomas tried to persuade commissioners Monday to support his efforts to make Clearwater one of the rail's stops.

If the rail stops in Clearwater it could be, "the most significant event in the city of Clearwater for the next 100 years," Thomas said.

The state Department of Transportation recently restarted a proposal to build a high-speed rail system linking the Tampa Bay area with Orlando and Miami. Plans still are tentative, but at this point they do not include Pinellas County. Two stops in Tampa have been considered: downtown and in the Westshore area.

The city of St. Petersburg quietly has been making a pitch for the rail to stop there, possibly in the Gateway area. But Thomas said if the rail is to stop anywhere in Pinellas, Clearwater should be the first choice because of the beaches and its "family-oriented tourism." The city has until Oct. 31 to make a pitch for inclusion in the DOT's request for proposal.

Thomas made a proposal of his own. He suggested that if the state makes the Clearwater side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway its destination point, the city should build a low-speed monorail system to carry passengers to Clearwater beaches and other tourist attractions. Commissioners will decide whether to pass a resolution with similar language Thursday.

"Clearwater has been shut out of this issue . . . tourists want to go to a resort area," Thomas said. "They don't want to go to an industrial park in the Gateway area of St. Pete or to Tampa."

Not every commissioner agreed with the idea of bringing the rail to Clearwater, or committing public funds to build a monorail system.

"I would support bringing the rail to Pinellas County, but not to Clearwater," Mayor Rita Garvey said.

Commissioner Art Deegan said the city still could make a commitment to "take the lead" on trying to get the rail to Clearwater without allocating city money to do it.

But Commissioner Dick Fitzgerald said even the suggestion of using taxpayer money for a monorail system should be avoided.

"(The resolution) sounds pretty definitive to me. I'm not in favor of implying that if they bring the rail across the Courtney Campbell, we would continue with a monorail system."

Thomas insisted that the resolution did not bind the city to any lofty promises, but that it was the only hope commissioners had of getting the DOT's attention.

"This city has one chance of being considered and it dies Oct. 31," he said.