With Gov. Rick Scott set to make a decision on SunRail this week, DOT secretary Ananth Prasad is hosting workshops with Central Florida governments to review the project. Prasad started before dawn in Daytona Beach, then headed to Sanford and Maitland. He'll spend the afternoon in Orlando, with Orange County Commissioners and in Kissimmee.
His presentation covers how federal, state and local governments will share the costs of the $1.28 billion, 61-mile project. One of Prasad's key points: After year seven of operation, local governments will have to cover costs of running the line that connects Orlando to surrounding counties. If there is no local funding source, operating money will come out of the region's state transportation dollars.
"Other priorities and needs in your region could be affected," he told a crowd of more than 70 people crammed into the small Maitland City Council chambers.
The federal government will pay for half of the projects construction. The state will pay 25 percent, and local taxpayers will cover the remaining 25 percent. State costs include $432 million to CSX Corp., a Jacksonville--based freight train operator, to use the company's tracks for passenger rail and make improvements to CSX tracks in other parts of the state.
Prasad also outlined commitments to SunRail from private businesses, such as Florida Hospital and Walt Disnery World, which have said they will support transit oriented development around rail stations and other SunRail supportive projects.
"We intend to require the private businesses and local communities to honor their commitments. We just can't afford to do otherwise," Prasad said.
In Maitland, supporters of the project outnumbered opponents. One opponent, Kenneth
In Orlando, where a banner hanging over City Hall reads "SunRail Will Move Central Florida Forward," about two dozen tea party activists rallied in the City Hall lobby, wearing shirts that read "Derail SunRail." The project represents an "unexpected and exceedingly huge risk," Tampa tea party organizer Sharon Calvert told the crowd.
The rally got rowdy when one SunRail supporter William Turnbull yelled questions about how SunRail opponents expected to get around when gas prices skyrocket.
"We're going to fire Obama! That's what we're going to do!" hollered back Stan Piatek. That prompted chants of "Obama! Obama!" from Turnbull.
"If we keep listening to the tea party we're going to have a disaster in this country," Turnbull said later.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer opened the workshop with the Orlando City Council.
"We believe we have created a very responsible plan," Dyer said, adding that surveys show most area residents support the project. The opponents, he said, are a vocal minority. He noted that many people derided the interstate highway system as a boondoggle.
"It was the biggest boon for the middle class," he said.