Audubon of Florida: President Obama Ushers Florida into a Green Future with High Speed Rail
President Barack Obama announced yesterday that Florida will receive $1.25 billion in federal funding to launch a high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando signals a fundamental shift in the state’s pattern of future growth, said leaders of the Audubon of Florida.
“Florida’s green future just got much brighter,” said Charles Lee, Audubon of Florida Director of Advocacy. “Our ability to cut down on harmful greenhouse gas emissions in Florida has been aided immeasurably by the Obama Administration’s action.”
The federal high speed rail grant, coupled with recent action by the Florida Legislature in special session, signals a significant shift in the relationship between government funding for transportation and the way that urban growth occurs in the state.
Instead of spending money to pave roads out through the countryside that open rural lands to sprawl-type development, Florida will now concentrate more of its transportation dollars and planning on inter-city and commuter rail lines that tend to attract development inward, forming more dense and compact growth corridors.
Three rail projects will see immediate steps toward implementation, with more to come. The High Speed Rail link between Tampa and Orlando represents the first leg of a system that may eventually link South Florida, Central Florida and Jacksonville with a common high speed rail line. The “Sunrail” commuter project spanning 61 miles from Deland to Kissimmee through the heart of Orlando will change commuting patterns in Central Florida, while the established Tri-Rail system that runs from Palm Beach to Miami will get a reliable and continuing funding source to facilitate eventual expansion.
“We should see Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) spend less on roads to open land for developers and spend much more on the kind of public transit projects that encourage smart growth in the right places,” Lee
This week’s announcement by President Obama followed the Legislature’s action in December 2009 to create a “Rail Enterprise” within DOT and tasked this new arm with planning, construction, maintenance, repair, and operation of a statewide high-speed rail system, and passenger and commuter rail systems, including acquisition of corridors and coordination and development of corridors, and to coordinate the development and operation of all publicly funded passenger rail systems in the state. The legislation also established a Florida Statewide Passenger Rail Commission to oversee rail operations.
“Two very important things have happened. First, we have a tremendous economic boost to construct important rail projects. Just as important, we have also seen the Legislature change the structure and mission of the Florida Department of Transportation. Both are great for Florida’s economy, environment and future”.
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