Tuesday, December 08, 2009

SunRail Deal Passes

The Florida Senate passed the SunRail bill 27-10. The vote was not as close as expected. Gov. Charlie Crist did some rare lobbying on behalf of the bill. Sen. Bill Nelson and Sen. George Lemieux issued a joint letter expressing their support. A major surprise was Republican lawmakers making a deal with AFL-CIO President Mike Williams to preserve union jobs.

“Our goal of stopping the displacement of federally-qualified railroad workers from Florida’s passenger and freight railroads will not be compromised as experienced rail workers will continue to maintain Florida’s railways,” Williams said.

South Florida's Tri-Rail will get state funding to keep it solvent. 13,000 riders use Tri-Rail daily. The rail is an asset but hasn't been able to make a profit.

My problems with the SunRail proposal is CSX is protected from liability. Florida is buying the track from CSX. So the state does bear responsibility. Sen. Paula Dockery made the best argument for why the CSX deal is one-sided.

"We are paying them," Dockery said, "10 times what their corridor is worth for the honor of owning that corridor. It's now our corridor. So they're introducing freight into our passenger rail corridor. They should be indemnifying us. Not the other way around."

Senate President J.D. Alexander has land near the track that would dramatically increase with the new commutor line. Rep. Baxter Troutman asked made a big stick about Alexander having a conflict of interest. Troutman and Alexander are estranged cousins. So make your own judgement on what that feud is about. If anyone knows, feel free to drop a comment.

Interstate I-4 is a mess. A passanger rail from Tampa to Orlando makes sense. I didn't support the last SunRail deal. Unlike other progressives, I am not 100 percent sold on light rail as a tranportation fix. I understand the green and congestion arguments. The problem is light rail making a profit. Tri-Rail is a perfect example of a light rail program not able to stay financially solvent. The Florida Department of Tranportation is going to have to figure out a way to promote rail to the public.

If I was in the Florida Senate, I would have voted yes. The CSX deal isn't perfect but we need to look into a tranportation future and start dealing with gridlock.

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At December 08, 2009 7:23 PM , Blogger Brian said...

I don't see why light rail not making a profit is an issue. It doesn't make a profit anywhere. It's always being subsidized by government--the only question is by how much. And if you compare the subsidies light rail gets to what we spend in tax dollars for highway maintenance, it's a pretty good deal, so far as I can tell.

At December 08, 2009 7:31 PM , Blogger Michael Hussey said...

My concern with light rail is the financing. The more money light rail makes the more it makes fiscal sense.

And if you compare the subsidies light rail gets to what we spend in tax dollars for highway maintenance, it's a pretty good deal, so far as I can tell.

People are not going to give up their cars. The Tampa-Orlando train could not handle every person during rush hour. It's a good alternative but not the solution for I-4 gridlock.


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