Wednesday, July 13, 2011
By Mark Simpson
(Orlando, Fla. -- WMFE) On Monday July 18, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is slated to attend a groundbreaking ceremony in Orlando for the SunRail Commuter train project. LaHood is also expected to sign papers promising $72 million dollars in Federal funding for SunRail. Total costs are expected to be around $1.2 billion dollars.
In the roughly two weeks since Florida Governor Rick Scott approved the Central Florida Commuter Train plan contracts have started moving. The Florida Department of Transportation gave Boise-based locomotive manufacturer Motive Power the go signal on a $17.5 million contract for designing and manufacturing seven SunRail locomotives, with the stipulation that up to thirteen could be built later on. An agreement was also signed with Amtrak and the Florida Central Railroad this week that will provide operational support for SunRail.
Notices to proceed were also given to Archer Western/Railworks for $170 million worth of work related to track improvements along the 61 mile route. Items still to be finalized include ticket vending machines and closing the purchase agreement from rail giant CSX on the rail corridor. That will likely take place this fall. SunRail is expected to start carrying passengers in 2014.
Other rail line ideas are gaining ground in the wake of SunRail’s approval. One concept is called Orange Blossom Express. The Express would be small passenger service moving rail riders from Lake County into Orange County with a connection into the SunRail line. Tracks currently owned by Florida Central Railroad would need to be upgraded before passenger trains could travel on the line. There is also debate among some local communities about the need for a passenger service. Advocates for the plan though are hoping to sway skeptics towards supporting a proposal.
Friday, July 01, 2011
By Mark Simpson
(Orlando-WMFE) UPDATED WITH COMMENTS FROM JOHN MICA
Florida Governor Rick Scott has approved SunRail.
His transportation secretary, Ananth Prasad, made the announcement today in Tallahassee.
Scott's decision puts an end to more than six months of waiting for the communities and cities along the route of the 61-mile, $1.2 billion commuter rail line.
Rick Scott had raised concerns about the lack of a dedicated funding source for the rail project, and earlier this year killed a high-speed rail line which many observers believed to be less risky financially. But after meeting this week with local government officials, Prasad told the governor that partner communities understood the financial risks.
If SunRail fails to support itself financially, Florida officials will dip into state funds for local transportation projects -- a threat which Prasad emphasized during his public hearings this week.
Florida Congressman John Mica, a longtime champion of the project, said the Governor made the right decision.
"I think the governor did what a smart business person does," Mica said. "Look at the bottom line and the bottom line is jobs, it’s the economy, it’s a cost effective transportation system for the future."
Mica indicated he's also on board with Governor Scott's efforts to expand the capacity of the Port of Miami to handle new larger ships out of the Panama Canal.
Back in April, Mica hinted that if Scott did not approve SunRail, partial funding for Miami's dredging project could be held up in the US House Transportation Committee, which the Congressman chairs.
SunRail is anticipated to be running by early 2014.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
By Mark Simpson
(Orlando, Florida -- WMFE) Florida's transportation secretary says cities like Orlando might have to tap into state funding for road widening and other transportation projects to operate the proposed SunRail commuter rail line.
Secretary Ananth Prasad spent Tuesday in Central Florida as part of a whirlwind tour of the planned rail line. He held six public meetings, starting in Volusia County and ending in Osceola.
Prasad said other badly needed transportation projects in Central Florida will be hurt if local governments have to pay for SunRail’s operating deficits.
"I just want to make sure the local governments, the mayors and commissioners understand that, and the local citizens understand, that they are making a choice," he warned. "They are making a choice to go towards mass transit at the expense of other traditional transportation projects."
But Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said his city needed the rail line. "If we want to grow in a fashion that will allow us to maintain the quality of life that we have come to expect in Central Florida, and have transportation alternatives and have jobs that will be stimulated by transit oriented development, then it's a must that we get SunRail."
The partners in SunRail are ready to start building. Governor Rick Scott is expected to decide by the end of the week whether to approve the commuter rail line.
You can listen to the whole story here.
TN MOVING STORIES: False Alarms Plague NY MTA Elevators, NJ Transit Increases Security, and Mimes To Promote Quiet Cars On Boston T
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
By Kate Hinds
Florida Governor Rick Scott sent his top transportation adviser to Central Florida to warn local officials that they'll be on the hook if SunRail fails. (St. Petersburg Times)
The monitoring systems on New York MTA elevators are plagued by false alarms. (New York Daily News)
São Paolo, Brazil, is building an 11-mile long monorail to link its airport to its subway system -- but it may not be completed in time for the 2014 World Cup. (Smart Planet)
The Miami Herald asks officials not to penalize riders because of the scandal at Miami-Dade Transit.
According to a recent poll, NJ governor Christie's support is dropping among voters because of decisions like canceling the ARC tunnel and flying in a state helicopter to attend his son's baseball game. (Bloomberg)
NJ Transit is increasing security and developing an intelligence unit with the FBI. (AP via the Star-Ledger)
A key House Democrat says privatizing Amtrak would drain railroad workers' pensions. (The Hill)
More on Boston's "quiet car" program, including the revelation that the MBTA will be using mimes to promote it. (WBUR)
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
By Mark Simpson
(Orlando, Fla-WMFE) Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad is barreling through Central Florida today, holding six public meetings in cities along the route of the proposed SunRail commuter train.
Governor Rick Scott is expected to decide by Friday whether to approve the project. Communities along the rail line are holding their breath, hoping the project will revive their struggling economies, and some people have already invested money to back up those hopes.
Ryan Von Weller and his partners spent $3 million top buy four acres of land right next to wear the railway would pass in Longwood.
“I’ve been so excited and so disappointed so many times,” he says, “I’m truly excited about this, not only for my own business purposes, but I think it’s going to be a paradigm shift for the people of Orlando.”
Right now it's just a grassy lot with an old auto garage in it. If and when SunRail comes through, Von Weller will build a four-story mixed-use apartment building.
That's just one small example of the investments, which are both private and public, in cities along the proposed route.
Opponents including Tea Party protesters, say the plan is too expensive and plan to protest the public hearings.
State numbers obtained by WMFE show cities and counties along the 61-mile SunRail line will have to spend nearly $7.5 million a year by 2021 to keep the train operating.
Federal contributions are expected to cover $2 million of that, and riders are expected to generate $3 million in revenue. That leaves a roughly $2 million deficit that will need to be covered.
Secretary Prasad will likely tell local leaders today that the state has no plans to help bridge that gap.
For more details on how the fight over SunRail has businesspeople, civic leaders and private citizens biting their nails and protesting in the streets, read the full story at WMFE.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
By Mark Simpson
The SunRail project -- a 61-mile commuter rail project that will be centered in Orlando and run through four counties -- has been in the works for years. It looked to be running forward smoothly -- until the Governor put major contracts related to the commuter train on hold in January pending his approval.
Florida’s Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad is scheduled to appear in Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties, as well as holding a separate meeting with Orlando officials.
Prasad is slated to explain to local communities that taxpayers will have to come through with payments for the $1.2 billion project. He’ll also explain there is no planned bailout if the commuter line fails to make money.
Already the West Orlando Tea Party is planning to rally on the steps of Orlando’s City Hall to protest the project on Tuesday afternoon. Spokesman Clyde Fabretti says SunRail “exposes the taxpayers to unnecessary risk.” He also says members of the Tampa branch of the Tea Party are expected to attend the rally.
Meanwhile, commuter rail advocates in Seminole County are urging supporters to show up at the public forum between Commissioners and the Florida DOT secretary. An email circulating among planning circles says “it is anticipated that the opposition will be out in force.”
The meetings are set for only a few days before Governor Rick Scott’s long anticipated decision on whether or not he’ll approve SunRail by a self-imposed July 1st deadline.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
By Mark Simpson
(Orlando, Fla-WMFE) Stakeholders across Central Florida are nervously waiting for Governor Rick Scott’s decision whether or not to approve the region’s 1.2 billion dollar commuter train project.
Scott says he will announce his decision at the end of June.
The Sunrail project has been in the works for years and looked to be running forward smoothly until the Governor put major contracts related to the commuter train on hold in January pending his approval. But that didn’t stop communities from moving forward with their plans to develop storefronts and other transit related amenities near the proposed stations.
See the Sunrail route here.
Some communities have already paid their consultants, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars, and could risk spending the money for nothing if the Governor shuts down Sunrail.
According to Phil Laurien, the Director of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, “ It’s a risk if they did not plan for Sunrail. If we waste the asset of the Sunrail stop to have more high density, transit oriented, walkable development, mixed use where people can shop and live and work, those are tremendous assets. Everywhere that transit oriented development has been done right it has stimulated the local economy.”
Laurien says he recently was visited by members of the German Parliament looking for places to invest in sustainable development in the US. He says the Germans consider Central Florida to be a loser region without the commuter train project.
Recently US Congressman John Mica, who chairs the House Transportation Committee heard a presentation on a proposed rail line that would run adjacent to Sunrail from downtown Orlando northwards into rural Lake County, called the Orange Blossom Express. State transportation officials have 13.8 million dollars set aside to improve rails on that line. The Orange Blossom Express could be running within five years
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
By Mark Simpson
(Orlando, Fla-- Mark Simpson, WMFE) Central Florida Republican Congressman John Mica says he's carefully reviewing Governor Rick Scott’s proposal to deepen the port of Miami to accommodate a new class of larger ships.
As chair of the House Transportation Committee, Mica is in charge of signing off on Federal dollars for the project. At a meeting in Orlando Monday, Mica made a point to compare that process with the Governor's review of Central Florida's planned commuter train.
Governor Rick Scott wants to spend $77 million of state money to dredge the Port of Miami, but total costs for the project are expected to be as high as $150 million.
Congressman John Mica's committee gets to decide whether to approve an additional $75 million in federal money that would make up the difference.
Mica didin't directly say he was linking that decision to the Governor's approval of the SunRail commuter train ... but he did bring up the similar timings for the two decisions, “ I get to authorize the project for the deepening at the federal level. Right now I’m studying them very closely as the Governor is studying the rail project very closely and I’ll make my decision next month in June about the time he makes his decision.”
Mica is referring to Governor Scott’s months long review of SunRail's financial viability.
That has put a lot of SunRail supporters, including Mica, on alert, especially after the Governor torpedoed Florida’s High Speed Rail hopes in February.
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Friday, March 25, 2011
By Mark Simpson
(Orlando, FL -- Mark Simpson, WMFE) The dream of improving rail transit in Florida isn’t dead… completely. High speed rail desires dissipated after weeks of dancing back and forth between HSR supporters - including US Senator Bill Nelson and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The two fell short of convincing chief opponent, Governor Rick Scott, that cost concerns over the $2.6 billion project would be resolved.
There is one other Florida rail project that is currently in a state of suspended animation — Central Florida’s Sunrail commuter train. It's supposed to run on 61 miles of track between Deland and Poinciana. It's been approved and is supposed to be up and running by 2013. Planning and contract work worth about $235 million for the project is on hold while Governor Scott reviews Sunrail. Scott says he will not make a decision until July when the new fiscal year begins for Florida. Supporters of Sunrail are worried though, because the Governor followed a similar review process before rejecting federal High Speed Rail money in February.
This week, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs met with Governor Scott for a half an hour to discuss the Sunrail project, and she told the Orlando Sentinel that she thinks Scott is still undecided. The Sentinel also released an analysis that shows the price of Sunrail is going up by close to $5 million because of the Governor’s hold on the project.