February 18, 2011

High Speed Rail, Not Dead Yet

I'm happy to see signs that we might be able to build High Speed Rail in Florida despite the short-sighted and partisan decision by our state's narrowly elected Governor. Apparently there is a veto-proof majority in the legislature to override the Governer's decision and our elected representatives in Washington are positioning to create a separate charter for the rail project and do an end run around his Tea Party vitriol.

I'm hopeful they'll figure out a way to bring those jobs and the economic development that will come with a high speed rail line. However, I'm not holding my breath. This money is going to be spent as part of the effort to drive a sustainable recovery of our national economy. It's money we've already paid in taxes, the last thing we should do is give it to another state.

Sadly there is no way to recall a sitting Governor in Florida. It would take an amendment to the state constitution. Which is a possibility, but also not the subject of this post.

I am a huge advocate for mass transit having seen how it spurred economic growth in Portland and Los Angeles. (Not to mention Japan, France, etc) Communities are lining up to have a rail stop these days rezoning to support an urban livable lifestyle.

That said, I have always been a bit confused by the order in which the two Central Florida rail projects are being funded. Yes, I realize High Speed Rail was chosen in part because it was the most shovel-ready project in the nation. And Sunrail was approved because there would be no cost of laying new track. I am sure both will provide an economic benefit in the long term. However, the overlooked need in Orlando is to funnel tourists from the airport to International drive and Kissimmee and then from those locations to the various amusement parks and attractions.

A well designed mass transit rail network would also move residents from the south to the north and from east to west all crossing just north of Downtown Orlando. From there street-cars would take you to Downtown and up to Winter Park (assuming they ever come down off their high horse). Street cars would also run the length of International Drive going all the way from Celebration on one end to Universal Studios on the other.

I've drawn up a quick suggestion, which I admit is without concern to right away. However, a raised light rail track would take care of most right away and grade/crossing issues. My point is this just illustrates how simple a design it would be.

The yellow, bright green and blue lines should be built immediately. The orange and green lines should be next. Then fill out the dotted lines over time. These lines follow existing traffic patterns and would provide immediate relief to those heavily traveled routes. Not-coincidentally they also convene in areas important to tourism and commerce. I'd wager we could find a way to combine the funds for High Speed Rail and Sunrail to build the first three light rail lines. Make this our highest priority and cut through red-tape and community apathy as we attempt to save Central Florida's economic engines.

Combining the availability of good mass transit with a limit on urban growth (necessary in Central Florida due to limited water and ground transportation resources) is the recipe for a strong vibrant community built around livability and affordability. But since we're not doing any of that, let's at least get started on the shovel-ready projects and help bring in some jobs and economic development.

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