SunRail’s charming third chance

    If there’s one thing I can’t stand in politics, it is the timidity that intoxicates legislators during election years. It’s like a venom that’s poisonously irritating.

    The Miami Herald reported that the politics of uncertainty are having a damning influence in the Florida Senate. This time, the victimized issue is the long-debated SunRail project that would connect central and south Florida via high-speed bullet trains operated by CSX Transportation, Inc.

    The Florida House of Representatives is expected to pass the legislation to allow the project tomorrow, which has been estimated to cost taxpayers up to $1 billion for the construction of SunRail and a $15 million stimulus for the current TriRail railroad system. The ultimate goal of the bill would be to attract a $2.5 billion federal stimulus offer to help in facilitate new transportation infrastructure.

    Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, has led two successful charges in the past to kill SunRail legislation, and now seems poised to lead a third successful offensive. She points to what she considers the objectionably gargantuan bill that taxpayers would front for the stimulus.

    Republicans are split in the senate on the issue. Senate President Jeff Atwater spent most of Friday wooing some of his party colleagues who aren’t sold on SunRail to reconsider the proposal. A supporter of past SunRail legislation, Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, currently opposes this version of the bill because of the compromises and differences implemented to help get pushed through the House. However, Baker has expressed interest in reversing his stance on the issue. Similarly, Mike Bennett, another senate Republican, will consider voting affirmatively for the legislation because of a provision that dumps more liability on CSX for accidents with the bullet trains.

    The senate needs to pass a SunRail bill with deliberation, but with a sense of urgency to act on the $2.5 billion federal stimulus availability. Florida needs a project like this to link three of the state’s major commercial urban centers in Orlando, Miami and Tampa. According to AECOM Consulting, the rail project is estimated to pump a projected 14,000 jobs into the Florida economy over the next 30 years. The state would also rake in about $13.5 in tax revenue alone.

    If the senate can’t pass SunRail legislation this time, chances are they never will. A number of agreements with local governments and CSX are set to ultimately expire in June.