State DOT: Construction of high-speed rail could begin by February
March 25, 2010
Construction could begin by February or March for the high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, with the first trains running by the first or second quarter of 2015, a Florida Department of Transportation official said Wednesday during a regional briefing.
State officials are refining cost estimates and plans for required work on the high-speed rail corridor that largely will run on the median of I-4 to prepare for requests for federal funding. Although Florida was awarded $1.25 billion by the Obama administration toward the $2.6 billion project, the state does not receive the money until it completes various portions of the project.
That work would include preparation of the corridor to accommodate two tracks that will be separated from the I-4 vehicular traffic by barriers, reconstructing bridges and moving utilities to make way for the rail line.
Wednesday's regional rail briefing with the mayors of Tampa, Lakeland and Orlando drew more than 100 area business and civic officials in the first of a series of forums to improve public understanding of high speed rail.
"High speed rail is not just building a train," said Ed Turanchik, founder of the grassroots rail support group fastrailconnectus.com. "It is about bringing together two regions and creating a broader community."
Rail and enhanced mass transit advocates, including local and regional economic development officials, seek to push their message that private sector investment goes hand in hand with transportation improvements, from development surrounding stations and enhanced mobility between regional cities.
Reports by two consultants that helped Florida win the federal money indicate that 2 million passengers a year would use high-speed rail at the beginning, said Nazih Haddad, chief operating officer of the Florida Rail Enterprise, which the Legislature created in December - modeled on the Florida Turnpike Enterprise - to oversee the state's passenger rail development.
That would amount to 12 percent to 13 percent of the traffic in 2015 along that corridor, Haddad said. Other officials have said I-4 truck traffic is likely to increase as the Port of Tampa enhances its container cargo business and a limited access connector links the port and I-4 by 2013.
Fifty percent of high-speed rail passengers are expected to be tourism or leisure related; the other 50 percent are expected to be business travelers.
About 45 percent of the high-speed rail travelers are expected to take the train between Tampa and Orlando, with the remainder on shorter legs, such as between Tampa and Lakeland or Lakeland and Orlando.
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