Rail bill will reshape state
December 8, 2009
All of us need to pay attention to what the Florida Legislature is doing in Tallahassee now because its work will shape our lives - and our children's' lives - for generations.
The Florida Legislature is convened for a special session this week to address the state's transportation needs.
I believe that in the five days of the session, lawmakers' decisions may have the biggest impact on the way that we live in and travel in Florida since the Interstate Highway System first came into existence.
The next generation of employers, residents and tourists will need transportation options that will connect our state and the regions within it. Unfortunately, many of our highways and roadways are at or exceed capacity.
We must develop transportation alternatives like many other communities, such as Charlotte, Denver and Dallas, are doing. Those alternatives must include rail. After all, our federal taxpayer dollars fund these rail systems in other parts of the country. It's time we got our fair share.
As vice-chairman of TBARTA, I applaud the decisive action by the Legislature to bring resolution to the SunRail commuter rail initiative in Orlando and give extended life to the critical Tri-Rail commuter rail system in South Florida. The legislation lawmakers are considering will position our state to aggressively and successfully pursue a portion of the Federal High Speed Rail project.
But more importantly, the legislation creates a comprehensive rail policy for Florida. This will be done by creating a separate statewide passenger rail commission that will monitor efficiency, productivity and management of rail systems. It will give rail transportation the same status as our award-winning toll road system.
There are very few things that are more important to hard-working Floridians than creating opportunities to bring employers and employees closer and easing the burdens of our daily commutes.
Transit systems like SunRail and Tri-Rail and those envisioned in TBARTA's plans, all represent significant economic development opportunities that will also create jobs.
Two years ago, through the leadership of the Tampa Bay area legislative delegation, the Legislature created TBARTA and mandated us to create a regional transportation master plan that addresses the long-range transportation needs of seven counties, from Citrus to Sarasota counties.
The master plan has been created, and now all seven counties are busy working together to begin implement it and ultimately connect us as one vibrant region.
Why should we care? Because in order for the state to be a serious contender for federal funding, whether for high speed rail or regional rail projects such as those in Tampa, Orlando and Miami, the state must create a strong vision and demonstrate a strong commitment with its actions.
There will be no stronger proof of our state's commitment than if the Legislature successfully enacts a comprehensive rail policy during this special session.
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