Florida to get $1.25 billion from feds for high-speed rail
St. Petersburg Times
January 28, 2010
BY ALEX LEARY AND JANET ZINK
President Barack Obama, seeking to deliver on his State of the Union promise to create jobs, will arrive Thursday in Tampa to announce Florida will receive $1.25 billion in funding for high-speed rail.
The state, which has flirted with the idea for a quarter century, applied for $2.6 billion in stimulus money for a line that would run from Orlando to Tampa.
But the White House said no state would get more than half its request right away, and at Thursday's town hall meeting Obama will characterize the award as a down payment.
In addition to $8 billion in rail projects to be awarded to states, Obama has pledged an additional $5 billion through the annual budget process.
``It's a pretty good start,'' said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat who pushed for the full funding along with Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and other Florida officials.
Crist plans to meet Obama when Air Force One touches down in Tampa Thursday morning.
Despite the setback in funding, advocates cast the announcement in breathless terms.
``This will be one of the largest boosts to the state's economy since Disney, since the interstate highway system,'' Nelson said.
``It's going to be the foundation of a more modern Florida,'' said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.
Rail backers claim it will bring 23,000 jobs to Florida over four years and create 600 permanent jobs once the line is running by early 2015. The plan is to eventually extend the line to Miami.
University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith said the Orlando-Tampa corridor ``is poised to become the breadbasket for the state, and this only catalyzes and reinforces that.''
In the short term, however, he doesn't hold out hope that the project will put a notable dent in Florida's 11.8 percent unemployment rate.
``We've lost 750,000 jobs'' since the recession began, Snaith said. ``That is a lot of ground to make up. High-speed rail or not, it's going to take time.''
Crist's rival in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, Marco Rubio, blasted the use of stimulus money for rail, even though he said he supports the concept.
``I think we should all be concerned about increased spending on anything at a time when the federal government is borrowing money to function.''
Obama spent much of his State of the Union address on the economy and alluded to high-speed rail, one of several job-creating initiatives he will unroll in the coming weeks.
``We can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow,'' Obama said. ``Tomorrow, I'll visit Tampa, Fla., where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help move our nation's goods, services and information.''
Thirteen major corridors will receive awards to help develop high-speed rail infrastructure or begin the transition to high-speed rail, according to the White House. Smaller awards will also be made for improvements to portions of existing rail lines.