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Future of Florida's sunrail in doubt

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By Sascha Cordner

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-974468.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – Nobody knows where Governor Rick Scott stands regarding the SunRail Project in Central Florida. As Sascha Cordner reports, both opponents and proponents are waiting in anticipation as the Florida Governor is expected to make his decision in a few weeks about the commuter rail project.

Scott says he's looking into whether or not to go forward with the SunRail project, especially since there are people telling him to go full speed ahead or come to a complete stop. One person who has had several conversations with the Governor regarding the commuter rail system is Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. She says Scott peppered her with the same questions she had before she became a supporter of the project.

"He's asked a lot of financial questions, as well he should, wanting to understand how the operating costs will be handled, what kind of ridership we expect, how we're going to ensure the ridership, what happens if less people use the train than expected, what happens if the costs are higher, who absorbs those costs, all the important kind of due diligence that I would expect out of anybody who voting on this and certainly, what I would expect from the Governor of the State of Florida."

Jacobs says she has also talked to him about the benefits of having the SunRail, which includes giving commuters another option than a congested Interstate-4.

Jose Gonzalez is the AIF's or Associated Industries of Florida Vice President of Governmental Affairs. He says SunRail is a popular idea because it will have a positive impact on multiple counties.

"Mainly, the impact we're talking about is economic activity and job creation. We think that in the four-county region, from our studies and what we've talked to folks about, we're looking at about 11-thousand jobs that will be created by the project. Those numbers from CSX and some of the other folks involved in this deal."

But, Beth Dillaha with VETO SunRail, or Voters Expressing their Opposition to Sunrail, says that's not what was indicated in a consultant report produced in 2008 for the Florida Legislature. She says it showed in the first year, there would only be 374 jobs created.

"When you do the math, and you look at a 1.2 billion dollar start-up and 374 jobs, that comes out to over 3-million dollars a job. I think what AIF and some of the proponents of the project have been doing, are spinning, is they're not telling anyone that their projection for jobs is over a 30-year period of time."

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman, Congressman John Mica says he believes the SunRail Project will create jobs in both the short term and long-term. The Republican U-S Representative says he has had some positive talks with different officials that may mean a favorable outcome for the project.

"Well, I've had an excellent meeting last week [between 6/6-6/10] with the Florida Department of Transportation Secretary in Tallahassee. And, it's my hope that we will have a decision soon. The Governor is reviewing all the financial data, getting final commitments from all the local partners, and hopefully we'll be set to go forward."

But, as everyone has said, the decision is in the Governor's hands.
Scott says right now he is in the reviewing stage and there are a few things he is dealing with at this point before making his decision.

"I want to understand the community support and opposition, and as you expect, in this position, you hear both. I want to make sure the community understands the fact that this money is coming out of their allocation out of the Florida Department of Transportation. And, then finally, making sure I understand what I can and can't do with what's already been appropriated, what's been committed."

The Governor is expected to attend a few hearings and meetings on the 28th of June. He is then expected to make his decision in early July.