Source: Tallahassee Democrat-Tim Lynch, OpEdBack to the future, by RailOur Legislature may be on the verge of moving Florida’s transportation system into the 21st century.Gov. Charlie Crist, Senate President Jeff Atwater and House Speaker Larry Cretul have a chance to re-establish conventional and high-speed rail services across Florida, enhancing the state’s economy.
Floridians have waited to long for such leadership.In 1964, my graduating class represented the first wave of the baby boom generation to finish high school and move on with life. That same year, Japan introduced the world’s first high speed rail (HSR) service, the Shinkansen, with traveling speeds of 130 mph. Drafted two years later, I arrive in Florida, a state boasting a population of 5.5 million.Over the remainder of the 20th century, virtually all of western Europe and the developing Pacific Rim nations of Korea, Taiwan and China built trains with speeds up to 200-plus mph while the U.S. lagged behind with a number of travel corridors offering travel times slower than what they had been a half century earlier.
Post WWII America’s love affair with the automobile resulted in huge government subsidies using billions of dollars of sales, income, property and other taxes (well beyond the gas taxes) to expand the public automobile and transit modes, while rail and other modes languished.Federal, state and local governments spent $1.8 trillion over the most recent decade available (in 2009 dollars) on all forms of public transportation. Automobile-based road construction sucked up $1.1 trillion, with $163 billion in subsidies. Rail by comparison received $11.2 billion (less than 1 percent of the total), with all of it as a subsidy.All public modes of public transportation receive subsidies — that is why it is called public. It is a public service delivered by government (with significant private sector involvement as well) subsidized to some extent by government for the benefit of the traveling public and private sectors to boost the economy as well as the quality of life.
Without these government subsidizes, all transportation systems, as well as the economy, would grind to a halt.Public roadway expenditures were 3.2 times larger than transit, 4.4 larger than air and almost 100 times larger than rail investments over this decade, while government subsidies to the automobile mode were matched closely only by transit.This post WWII automobile mode spending at all levels of government continues to finance this insatiable addiction to petroleum-based fuel and one person-one vehicle travel. In Florida, for example, since the mid 1960s the population has exploded more than by 340 percent, to 18.6 million today, yet our investments in rail have been anemic. We have witnessed low-density suburbanization as we all reached out for cheaper land and more space, with the inevitable clogging of auto-subsidized roadways. It simply cannot continue.
No simple, cost-free solution to this congestion will emerge today or any day soon, and rapid advances in auto technology such as the all electric car may even exacerbate this trend. However, important initial steps can and should be taken to begin to offer Floridians public travel options. Conventional and HSR options that have been successfully implemented in other parts of the nation should be pursued. These public transportation choices will stimulate more efficient (and “greener”) movement of our populations and growth of our economy as they are implemented and as use grows.High-speed rail upgrades across the Boston-New York-Washington Acela HSR service (which reaches 150 mph in part of the corridor) have been met with unprecedented increases in ridership, capturing 63 percent of all air-rail passenger travel across this corridor, up from 50 percent four years earlier. Meanwhile, Amtrak’s ridership is up 13 percent since 2005.
From California to Maine, intermediate-speed service has resulted in ridership increases unparalleled in recent memory. Impressive gains in rail service and enhancements to local economies occur wherever these services are introduced. Rail systems developed in American urban areas will be well-used when well-planned and implemented — and the same can be true for FloridaIn the late 1990s, Florida had the opportunity to implement the private-sector-led, private-public Florida Overland Express (FOX) 325-mile HSR service across the Tampa-Orlando-Miami travel corridor. The FOX $5.6 billion investment plan promised 42,267 Florida jobs, $11.7 billion in wages and salaries and more than $40 billion in additional state economic benefits over a 30-year period. It included a $1.25 billion federal grant, rigorous ridership and revenue projections and plans to build out HSR future expansions to a 1,300-mile statewide turnpike-type system that would pay for extensions as revenues and demand allowed.
Had that opportunity not been lost in the late 1990s Floridians today would be widely using those planned HSR systems, and the Florida Legislature would be debating and planning how to use the surplus revenues to build the new HSR expansions. That was then and this is now. The choice is now, the future awaits. ABOUT THE AUTHORTim Lynch is a professor emeritus at Florida State University and was director of the Center for Economic Forecasting and assistant director of the Florida High Speed Rail Commission. He is now chairman of the Florida Center for Economic and Fiscal Policy. He wrote “High Speed Rail in the U.S.: Super Trains for the Millennium”. Contact him at email@example.com.
TO: Members, Florida House of Representatives
FROM: Larry Cretul, Speaker
DATE: November 30, 2009
RE: Special Session scheduled to begin Thursday, December 3, 2009
During the past few months, the House and Senate have engaged in extensive discussions to determine whether the state can take advantage of new opportunities that may enhance our transportation infrastructure without increasing taxes. I am happy to announce that we have come to an agreement in principle on how to accomplish that goal. The agreement relating to SunRail and Tri-Rail represents a compromise between prior House and Senate positions; the result is a bill that is significantly better than similar legislation we have supported in the past two sessions.
The proposed bill represents a win for Florida commuters who will now have more access to cleaner and more efficient mass transit. It’s also a win for Florida taxpayers who understand best that now is not the time to raise taxes. I am pleased that we were able to fund this initiative with existing transportation dollars. We are hopeful that our leaders in Washington will follow through on their commitments for Florida’s transportation future. Doing our part now is intended to advance federal actions supporting this initiative. Those federal actions are not expected until we make necessary changes in state law.
President Atwater and I have decided to convene the Legislature in Special Session on Thursday, December 3rd, to take up the proposed legislation. I expect a Proclamation to be issued today. Please be advised of the altered schedule so that you can make appropriate travel arrangements.
The House will convene at 10:30 am on Thursday, December 3rd. I expect the proposed bill to be considered in the Economic Development & Community Affairs Policy Council that day. The Council PCB should be published tomorrow, but a summary of the expected bill is attached. I expect the House to be in session for Second Reading on the bill on Friday, December 4th. It is my hope that the House can vote on final passage on Monday, December 7th. This schedule would permit the Senate to complete work by early Wednesday, December 9th. Because of this schedule I will be revising the previously published interim meeting schedule for next week.
Thank you for your service to the House and the state, and thank you for the flexibility that your service demands in these challenging times.
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