High Speed Rail Projects Set To Roll
By Keith Laing
The News Service Of Florida
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Oct. 22, 2010…….Florida officials are still waiting for about half the money for a bullet train linking Tampa Bay to Orlando, but are about to begin advertising for bids for the first parts of the project.
The state Department of Transportation said it will begin advertising the first project, preparing the median of Interstate 4 for trains to run in it, in November.
Advertising for other contracts, including rebuilding two I-4 exits that will have to be rebuilt after the median is widened and moving a part of the highway near Orlando slightly west, will follow in December and January. In June, the department will solicit contracts for building a maintenance facility for the rail.
“The Early Works Projects will allow the FDOT to start preliminary construction on a fast-track basis, putting
Floridians to work, while also creating an unobstructed corridor in which (Florida High Speed Rail Authority) construction by the Design, Build, Operate, Maintain and Finance Contractor can occur,” Adrian Share, senior vice president and program director of passenger rail for the newly formed Florida Rail Enterprise, and engineer Brad Flom said in a memo outlining the projects.
Share and Flom said the I-4 median would be widened in 12 places. A short list of possible firms to complete the work will be selected Dec. 14, and those companies will have to submit proposals by Jan. 25. The bids will be announced Feb. 21.
Florida was one of the biggest winners in the sweepstakes early this year for high speed rail money that was included in the federal economic stimulus, winning the second largest portion of $8 billion that had been set aside by Washington.
Florida asked for $2.6 billion in all from the federal government. Washington has already agreed to send $1.25 billion to Florida, but the state is hoping for another $1.1 billion from the Federal Railroad Administration to complete the Tampa-Orlando leg to keep the train on track. Backers want it to eventually also connect to Miami.
Florida is competing with nine other states for the money. Earlier this week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he would announce the winners as early as next week. He reiterated the Obama administration’s commitment to rail, saying “Our plan is to connect 80 percent of America, high-speed inter-city rail, in the next 25 years at a cost of $500 billion.”
President Obama pushed for building a rail network across the country similar to the construction interstate highway system in the 1950s under President Dwight Eisenhower.
The rails for the Florida bullet train project have not always been smooth. A high speed train connecting central and South Florida was originally placed in the Florida Constitution by voters in 2000, but it was removed by the same electorate in 2004 after a campaign backed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, who argued the state couldn’t afford it.
Now, with federal money on board and optimism that more is just down the line, backers say the trains could begin rolling in 2015.
The full High Speed Rail Early Works Projects memo can be read at: http://www.newsserviceflorida.com/Links/2010/10-22-10RAILPROJECTS.pdf
Detailed context on Florida transportation issues is available on the NSF Transportation Backgrounder at http://www.newsserviceflorida.com/transportation/transportation.htm.
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