A group of Central and South Florida business, political and civic leaders are banding together to lobby the federal government for $2.5 billion to build a high-speed train linking Orlando with Tampa.
The message of the organization, which conducted news conferences Tuesday in Orlando, Lakeland and Tampa, is that a fast train would create jobs, encourage quality development around the stations and help the environment by moving people out of cars and onto a train.
“This is the future, and this is what we need to fight for,” U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, said during the event at Orlando International Airport.
Grayson spoke before a gathering of high-speed supporters who’ve created a group called ConnectUs. It is run by Ed Turanchik, a developer and former Hillsborough County commissioner who led Central Florida’s unsuccessful attempt to host the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Turanchik said ConnectUs is a nonprofit formed about two months ago with $50,000 donated by a variety of businesses and individuals.
The group is seeking additional contributions of up to $5,000 apiece to launch an advertising campaign, according to Turanchik, who is working for free but could be compensated in the future.
The main form of communication the group has now is a Web site called FastRail ConnectUs.com. It asks people to sign up and pledge their support for a train that could go as fast as 150 mph on the 90-mile route largely along Interstate 4, starting at Orlando International Airport and ending in downtown Tampa.
Eventually, a Miami leg could be added as well.
“Trains are very cool things,” Turanchik said. “What’s cool about them is they connect us.”
Turanchik said businesses and government agencies in Miami, Orlando and Tampa all support the state’s bid for the train.
That cooperation is significant, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said.
“We have to get away from competing with ourselves. … We’re Florida against the world,” Dyer said.
The federal Department of Transportation is planning to announce its first round of high-speed rail winners by mid-October.
Ten corridors are being considered, including Orlando to Tampa; Boston to Washington; Portland to Seattle; and San Diego to San Francisco.
If Florida is picked, construction could begin almost immediately, with service starting in 2014, the state’s pre-application says. Supporters say the train could create 25,000 jobs.
Only three of the 27 largest metropolitan areas in the country are without a fixed rail system. Orlando and Tampa are two of those, and Cincinnati-Louisville is the third.
Dyer is hoping support for a high-speed train will help SunRail, a planned, slower-running commuter train that would connect DeLand in Volusia County with downtown Orlando and Poinciana in Osceola. It could link with the fast train at a stop near OIA.
SunRail would cost $1.2billion, with $500 million or more possibly coming from the federal government. The first 31 miles, from south Volusia County to Sand Lake Road in Orange, could be up and running in 2012, with the remainder in 2014.