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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

re John Mica's contention that SunRail is still on track; this issue barely exists in the Miami Herald's world

June 30th, 2009

The Miami Herald has not mentioned
this important story or what John Mica
has been up to the past few weeks in
his attempts to keep SunRail alive.
In fact, the Herald hasn't mentioned the
admittedly not-perfect SunRail by name
since June 13th.

But then as we've all borne witness to
over the past few years, their spotty
news coverage of non-political issues
around the state is hardly Breaking
News, itself, is it?

I'll be doing a blog post in the near-future,
long in the making, on the Herald's
very odd and mystifying coverage of
mass transit in general, and this issue
in particular, since Larry Lebowitz
no longer covers regional planning
and transportation-related issues
for the newspaper, and Alfonso
Chardy does.

The signs were clear for all to see
when the paper didn't even bother
to send anyone to cover the
Tri-county Regional Transportation
Summit that I -and many of you-
attended at the Broward County
Convention Center in FTL, many
Saturday mornings ago.
(Perhaps they were staking-out
Father Cutie, instead?)

Yet because of the nature of the
debate, that would have been the
perfect venue for the Herald to
actually incorporate some of that
multimedia element they keep
talking about, but when they had
the chance to do it, and truly help
illuminate an important issue,
they just blew it.

The Herald's almost complete
indifference to SunRail's future,
and what that might mean in
Central Florida for common sense
TOD, and locally for Tri-Rail,
coupled with what I perceived to
be their very moralizing editorial
against it on May 9th, is, to me,
just another sign of its swift decline
from quality newspaper into
near-irrelevance, just when South
Florida needs the paper to actually
be much better than its been in
quite some time.

But then what would you expect
from the Miami Herald,
whose Editorial Board foolishly
backed the taxpayer-funded
Marlins Stadium, and seemed
to be okay with the City of
Miami and Miami-Dade County
NOT submitting the issue to a
public referendum, but which
not only raps SunRail, but
seems inclined to nail the
coffin shut on SunRail on
account of taxpayer costs?
Wow!

When exactly did the Herald's
Editorial Board start worrying
about costs like they were
Ohio Republicans?

Costs and basic physics didn't
and haven't prevented them from
championing a proposd cargo
tunnel to the Port of Miami,
even though, to me at least,
that's clearly going to be a
financial and natural disaster
waiting to happen.

Just in case you forgot how
things are really done down
here in South Florida, here's
a reminder:

Fired Miami Bureaucrat
Continued To Get Full Pay


I-Team: Fired, Retired, But

Still Working

http://cbs4.com/iteam/Fired.CIP.Director.2.1064666.html


CBS4's Gary Nelson shoots
-and he scores!

-------------
Daytona Beach News-Journal

http://www.news-journalonline.com/NewsJournalOnline/News/Headlines/frtHEAD02063009.htm

June 30, 2009

Mica: SunRail is still on track despite political setbacks

By JAMES MILLER
Staff Writer


ORLANDO -- The proposed commuter-rail line connecting DeLand and metropolitan Orlando is not dead, despite two consecutive years of dramatic setbacks in the Florida Legislature, supporters said Monday.

In fact, SunRail is very much alive.


Negotiations to carve out a commuter-rail agreement palatable to wary lawmakers will be extended for six months.


The project could have been shut down today, according to an opt-out clause in an agreement between CSX Transportation, which owns the rail corridor, and the state Department of Transportation, which wants to buy it.

"We are on target to keep moving the project forward," U.S. Rep. John Mica, a Winter Park Republican and SunRail proponent, told an audience of SunRail supporters and media Monday at Metroplan Orlando headquarters.


Mica said the 61.5-mile system was necessary "for the sake of the environment, for the sake of energy, for the sake of moving people around our community."


Envisioned by boosters as a key transportation alternative in the growing Interstate 4 corridor, SunRail has been estimated to cost the federal and state governments and five local partners -- Volusia, Orange, Osecola and Seminole counties and Orlando -- $2.7 billion over 30 years, including operations.


But the project appeared to reach a dead end this spring when, for the second year running, the state Senate rejected legislation needed to make it a reality.


Controversial language addressing liability for accidents, budget woes and union opposition helped lead to the defeat.


On Monday, Mica said proponents were working to address each of those issues.

Perhaps most important, he said CSX had agreed to revisit the liability language.

As proposed this spring, it would have shielded the rail company from up to $200 million in damages to commuters or other people in the corridor, even if CSX caused the damages through its negligence.

The FDOT was slated to pay CSX $432 million in a purchase deal, but CSX would have leased the corridor for freight traffic so its trains also would be in use there.


"The long and the short of it is CSX has agreed to look at new terms of liability in which there will be certain limits, I believe, and responsibility for CSX in case of negligence," Mica said. "I don't want to get into specifics."

In a statement, CSX said it planned to continue discussions for six months at the request of elected officials.

"Those discussions will center on whether options exist to bring the transaction to a successful conclusion," according to the statement.


Company spokesman Gary Sease declined to elaborate.


If SunRail proponents are able to hammer out a revised proposal, it could go before the Legislature in a special session this fall, said Sen. Lee Constantine, an Altamonte Springs Republican who's been shepherding SunRail in the Senate.


Constantine said lawmakers likely will have to go back in the fall for at least one other issue, anyway.

"Having it in the light of day by itself with very few other issues I think would be a real positive for us," he said.

Other changes discussed Monday include a potential state application for transportation stimulus money for the project.


Using additional federal money could free state transportation dollars for projects in other parts of the state and potentially soften some lawmakers' budget-based opposition.


Although much of the recent wrangling over SunRail has been happening at the state and federal levels, local officials almost certainly haven't had their last look.


Significant changes to already negotiated agreements would put SunRail back before the Volusia County Council, said County Chairman Frank Bruno.


Only one council member -- Jack Hayman -- has voted against SunRail so far, citing uncertainties about long-term costs and ridership.


james.miller@news-jrnl.com


-------------
This story includes multimedia on the URL

Orlando Sentinel


Orlando Sentinel Exclusive

SunRail commuter train might be back from brink

By Dan Tracy, Sentinel Staff Writer
June 26, 2009

Just days before facing a potentially crushing deadline, the SunRail commuter train proposed for Central Florida might be chugging along again.

Backers of the $1.2 billion project have won a crucial negotiating extension and likely will be heading back to the state Legislature, which has scuttled the plan twice before, most recently two months ago.

"It's far from a done deal. But what we have is one more chance," said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who chairs the local SunRail committee.

Added state Sen. Lee Constantine, R- Altamonte Springs, and a prime SunRail supporter: "I think we are off life support. We're still not healthy, but the prognosis is improving."

A key development was the waiving of next week's deadline to buy tracks from CSX, the Jacksonville train company that owns the line SunRail intends to use.

CSX officially agreed this week to back off the June 30 cutoff date to give lawmakers another chance to consider the plan, company spokesman Gary Sease said.

"We are talking to the Florida Department of Transportation and local officials about options to continue the transaction," Sease said, declining further comment.

Without CSX, it would have been impossible for the train that would link DeLand in Volusia County with downtown Orlando and Poinciana in Osceola County to ever materialize.

Insurance still issue

But SunRail still remains far from becoming a reality.

Most vexing remains the problem that stopped SunRail in the Legislature the past two sessions: getting an insurance policy.

The state Senate has twice balked at approving a $200 million pact that assigns liability in case there is an accident. Opponents contend the plan placed too much risk on the state and not enough on CSX.

Dyer said SunRail hopes to blunt that criticism by having CSX assume more risk, particularly when its employees are at fault.

Critics also have decried the high cost of SunRail, saying it amounts to corporate welfare. It was an especially effective argument during the past legislative session when lawmakers were forced to raise some taxes and fees, raid trust funds and rely on federal dollars to plug a $4 billion hole in the budget.

But U.S. Rep. John Mica, R- Winter Park, said he hopes to win even more money from the federal government — close to $250 million — from the nearly $800 billion stimulus package approved earlier this year by the Congress.

"More federal money, less state money," Mica said. "We'll get as much as we can get there."

Some of the money saved by the state could, in theory, be diverted to the struggling Tri-Rail commuter train in South Florida. Constantine tried to win votes in that region last session by offering to back a $2 surcharge on rental cars, but South Florida lawmakers turned him down.

Now that Tri-Rail is facing layoffs, service reductions and a related loss of federal funding, Constantine said, they might be more willing to work with SunRail supporters.

Mica previously has applied for $300 million in federal funding. About $40 million was aside for SunRail in the current budget, he said.

Special session?

Constantine and Dyer said they could bring SunRail back to the Legislature when it meets early next year or during a special session.

The most probable scenario, Constantine said, is a special session called during September or October, when regular committee meetings are held.

"Let's tee it up," he said.

Likely standing in the way will be Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, who successfully led the two previous fights against SunRail.

Dockery, whose hometown would be forced to accept extra freight rerouted by SunRail, has argued the commuter train is too expensive and the insurance policy is loaded against the state.

She was traveling Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

The attempt to resurrect SunRail largely came together Wednesday, when Dyer flew to Washington to meet with Mica, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and representatives from CSX, the Federal Transit Administration, Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak.

Dyer and Mica both characterized the talks as "very positive."

The federal representatives, Dyer and Mica said, stressed that SunRail is critical to state hopes of building a high-speed train because they want it to connect to anther form of mass transit, not just a large parking garage.

Florida is seeking $2 billion in federal money to pay for a 90-mile link between Orlando International Airport and Tampa with a train capable of going at least 110 mph.

Ten areas have been declared eligible by the government. Besides Florida, other likely applicants include California, North Carolina, the Pacific Northwest and Pennsylvania.

As much as $8 billion is up for grabs. The Obama administration might start awarding grants by the end of the year.

Dan Tracy can be reached at
dtracy@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5444.

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