April 05, 2008

McKeel files amendment to transportation bill

    TALLAHASSEE - Rep. Seth McKeel filed an amendment to the House transportation funding bill Friday that would require a comprehensive statewide plan for commuter rail and intercity transportation systems through 2028.

    The amendment is designed to stop the piecemeal creation of commuter rail systems and come up with a comprehensive plan for the entire state with timetables and locations. The amendment would end complaints like the ones surrounding the CSX-Orlando commuter rail deal that the department negotiated privately on a limited scale with the railroad. It instead would provide a comprehensive step-by-step plan for the state.
    - More . . . The Ledger
With so much at stake for so many, why would any thoughtful legislator oppose Rep. McKeel's common-sense approach?

Federal transit honcho praises rail project
    ORLANDO - The head of the federal agency that could approve more than $300 million for Central Florida commuter rail praised the regional support he saw for the project Friday, even as state legislators battled over an insurance issue that could stop it in its tracks.

    James Simpson, director of the Federal Transit Administration, took a tour of the route and also heard from dozens of politicians and business leaders from Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties on the urgent need for the 61-mile commuter-rail project to run from DeLand to Orlando to Poinciana.

    Simpson made no guarantees or endorsements but seemed generally positive about what he saw.

    "It's amazing," Simpson told a group of about 75 leaders who gathered in Winter Park to press their case.

    "We can't get people in one county and certain cities to get together for a project, and to have four counties get together is really amazing."
    - More . . . Orlando Sentinel
Not so amazing, Mr. Simpson, when the getting together involves powerful corporate interests and "dozens of politicians and business leaders" who will benefit financially and politically from the deal.

Not so amazing that Orlando-area leaders are gleeful at the prospect of dumping a massive amount of their traffic and infrastructure problems on neighbors to their north and west.

What is amazing is that legislators from Florida's other sixty-three counties would give serious consideration to a plot hatched in secret, rushed along without comprehensive regional and state planning, and financed with taxpayer money at a time when the state is cutting vital services.

I urge approval of Rep. McKeel's amendment.

The state of Florida has an opportunity - and an obligation - to divert a win for the special interests of four counties into a comprehensive, visionary plan that benefits the entire state.

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