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Crist signs rail bill; FDOT head absent

With the state's chief transportation official conspicuously not in attendance, Gov. Charlie Crist signed the rail bill (HB 1B) into law at a ceremony in the Capitol Wednesday morning.

"Today we celebrate because Florida's transportation future moves into the 21st century," Crist said. The legislation, he added, "solidifies our state's commitment to expanding passenger rail transportation," a development he said he hoped U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will take into account as the Obama administration dispenses billions in rail stimulus money.

The legislation creates the SunRail commuter line on CSX tracks in central Florida, provides more money for South Florida's ailing TriRail system and provides money for the first leg of a high speed rail system linking Tampa and Orlando.

Florida's transportation secretary, Stephanie Kopelousos, was not in attendance and could not be asked questions about an e-mail controversy (although two other agency heads were). Crist ordered his inspector general to investigate why some DOT emails sent to Kopelousos by a top aide used breakfast words like "French toast" and "pancakes" to get her attention. Crist called that "odd" and unnecessary, but he still went ahead with an elaborate bill signing trip with stops in Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.