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Article:Dockery Upset Scott May Give Green Light to SunRail

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Dockery Upset Scott May Give Green Light to SunRail

By Noah Pransky
May 14, 2011

One of the biggest proponents of high-speed rail (HSR) is one of the biggest opponents of commuter rail in Orlando, and she's preparing for another disappointment from Governor Rick Scott.

State Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, says the governor, who put the $1.3 billion SunRail project on hold when he took office, appears ready to green-light it again.

"He's not even giving a meeting to the opponents to the project," she said, noting he wouldn't meet with supporters of HSR either.  "That's what's a little bit disconcerting."

Dockery is such an opponent of SunRail because the state assumes the majority of the cost to construct the 61.5-mile Orlando-area line as well as the long-term risk.

With HSR, the federal government and private corporations were planning on funding it all, while the private sector would assume all risk.

"I get the suspicion [the rejection of HSR] was an anti-Obama move than anything because it was a very sound project," Dockery said.

She also indicated Scott was heavily-influenced by industry lobbyists and elected officials who are pushing for the project.

In her office, Dockery has 27 boxes of documents from years of SunRail planning.  She says she's discovered evidence of freight company CSX driving up the price of the project to pad its bottom line.

According to FDOT documents, the state gives CSX a half-billion dollars in rail upgrades across the state for the right to share 61.5 miles of Orlando-area track.  Dockery says it's a handout to a private corporation that will start running more freight through Central Florida communities.

She's also concerned about the long-term cost of SunRail.  The four counties that would benefit from the commuter rail would be responsible for operation of the line after 2020 but currently have no financing in place to pay for it.

Dockery says if the counties don't provide funding, the state could be on the hook, like it is for the poorly-performing Tri-Rail in South Florida.

Over 30 years, FDOT estimates SunRail will cost approx. $2.66 billion, most of which will come from local and state funding.

The initial $2.6 billion HSR line was slated to be 90 percent funded by federal dollars and 10 percent through private sector contributions.

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