Florida should get started now on commuter rail

Published Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rail plan still a bad deal | April 15, editorial

Get started now on commuter rail

We need to view transit projects for what they are — investments in our future. The Tampa Bay Partnership supports SunRail as the start of a statewide transit system and the catalyst that will accelerate our transit plans in Tampa Bay. From an economic point of view, we feel strongly that investing in projects such as SunRail is exactly what our government should be spending money on to reignite our economy and secure our financial future.

You argue that the state would "pay CSX too much for the tracks," yet the value of the 61 miles of CSX right of way through metro Orlando was determined by two certified independent appraisals. Considering that adding one lane to I-4 would cost billions of dollars, the cost to buy 61 miles of existing rail lines looks modest by comparison.

Additionally, the state's investment into commuter rail will secure $682 million in federal transportation dollars into our state — that's half of the cost of getting the system started.

A recently released U.S. Government Accountability Office report addressing liability agreements between commuter and freight users of train tracks indicated that the liability language proposed in SB 1212 is typical of commuter-freight track sharing agreements.

Beyond supporting the merits of this agreement, we also are very aware that the agreement is currently written to cover all future projects in our state. This is very important to Tampa Bay. Our current TBARTA (Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority) master plan includes several options which use existing freight lines to move commuter rail. Utilizing these lines will save our region significant costs, but this will not be an option if this issue is not resolved.

Your dismissive closing comment to "move on and try again next year" really ignores the critical need our state has to implement mass transit sooner rather than later. By focusing on what is best for our region and our state, the choice is quite clear. If we don't get started now, it will be another 20 years and we'll still be debating the same issues while we're still stuck in traffic. That's a future none of us can afford.

Steve Mason, chair, Tampa Bay Partnership

House panel agrees to drill | April 22

Tourism, drilling don't mix

It is disheartening to see that our state Legislature is willing to risk our future to remedy budget shortages and provide oil companies with even more profits at our expense.

Our state has enjoyed the benefits of being a tourism mecca, allowing us to enjoy living without a state income tax. We have some of the best beaches and sport fishing in the country and it could all be at risk if the oil lobby and some legislators looking for a quick buck have their way.

Some legislators are willing to provide tax breaks for the purchase of yachts and private planes and in the same breath explain that we need to open our shores to oil drilling for new sources of income to meet budget deficits. But I guess they kept their promises and did not raise taxes.

Though technology has decreased the likelihood of a major spill, it is still a possibility. I am sure the recent spills into San Francisco Bay (November 2007) and the Mississippi River (July 2008) were both unlikely and should not have happened, but they did.

The future is to move away from petroleum fuels for greener technologies.

There are other means of resolving budget deficits that would not risk the long-term economic future of a state that needs tourism to survive.

Glenn Smith, Tampa

Drilling is good for all

My fingers are crossed that the Legislature will indeed lift the ban on offshore oil drilling. As one of the nation's most populous states, Florida is a big oil consumer — and we have the resources just a few miles away to make ourselves more energy independent. Alternatives are fine as far as they go, but solar, wind, etc., can't replace oil for transportation, at least in any reasonable period of time. Hybrid and all-electric vehicles just aren't as practical as gas and diesel for the majority of consumers.

Everybody wins with the oil drilling bill under consideration: the motoring public, the taxpaying public, and those who invest in oil companies. It's time for the public to win a round against the all-powerful environmental lobby!

Bob Potter, St. Petersburg

Resist the despoilers

Shame on Republican Rep. Dean Cannon and all those who support him! Once again they want to despoil our beaches to provide more revenue for the oil companies that lobby them and which they refuse to even name.

They are willing to sell the future for a little dubious gain in the present, which will not in any way lower gas prices and will only hurt our state.

To add insult to injury, they said that the revenues could be used to fund Florida Forever. If they think that will win over environmentalists, they have badly misjudged us. What they are doing is trying to make sure that our beautiful Florida will be despoiled forever. We support Florida Forever and urge our legislators to resist any attempt to approve of oil drilling off our coasts.

Lucy Fuchs, Brandon

They earned it | April 19, letter

Wrong kind of retirement

It doesn't sound like the letter writer really understands what is happening. These double dippers are retiring and then returning to the jobs they held. That is wrong! If they want to retire and find a different job, that is another story.

I am a retired federal employee, who also worked under Social Security and I am penalized for that. Because I receive a government pension, my Social Security is cut by two-thirds.

Also, military retirement is not what it used to be. My brother-in-law is retired from the Air Force and he has to work to make ends meet. Also the health benefits are not the same.

Yes, people should be able to make as much as they are qualified for, but to retire from your job and then get the same job back? I think not.

Nancy Long, St. Petersburg

A cocoon of corrupt practices | April 21, editorial

An unseemly system

I think this nation of adults does understand how the political system works. I give you $10,000 and you give me $6 million. Anything our elected officials or their contributors might use seems to be tax exempt. (Any noncontributors ever bought club boxes for a sporting event?) How about passing a law that gives free advertising to candidates who wins their primary? That would give new meaning to the term "free elections" and save billions from contributors that could be spent elsewhere.

It's time to stop electing the best man money can buy!

By the way, I think the grand jury did indict a couple of ham sandwiches.

Paul Schneider, Sun City Center


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