President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited the University of Tampa last week to announce Florida’s appropriation of a $1.25 billion federal grant for a high-speed rail project.
The initial investment from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will serve as down payment on the 84-mile high-speed rail line – SunRail – which will parallel Interstate 4 and connect Tampa with Orlando. Further funding is anticipated at an undetermined date.
High-speed rail lines, which are used across Europe, will help America remain competitive in the global market.
At the Bob Martinez Sports Center on Thursday, Biden said, “The grants are not only expected to have an up-front job and economic impact but help spur economic growth in communities across the country, provide faster and more energy-efficient means of travel and establish a new industry in the U.S. that provides stable, well-paid jobs.”
Obama said last week in his first State of the Union address: “The true engine of job creation in this country will always be American businesses … We can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow.”
The jobless rate in Tampa Bay hit 11.8 percent last month. SunRail is estimated to bring 23,000 jobs to Florida over four years in fields such as planning, engineering, manufacturing, track laying, rail maintenance and operations, as well as 600 permanent jobs once the project is complete.
SunRail use will reduce the 39.6 million gallons of excess fuel consumed per year in the Tampa area because of congestion and the $928 annual cost per commuter for being stuck in traffic, according to statistics provided by a Texas Transportation Institute study.
This project is vital to clear up congestion on I-4 and provide jobs for a sputtering market in the state.
The areas surrounding commuter rail stations at Walt Disney World, Downtown Orlando, the Orange County Convention Center, the Orlando International Airport, Downtown Tampa and an undetermined site in Lakeland will enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship with the rail, whether it be tourism or commercial development.
David Sobelman, executive vice president with the Calkain Cos. in Tampa, said to GlobeSt.com that putting products and services near stations will drive passenger traffic.
This rail project should serve as a catalyst for the development of a light rail connecting the entire Tampa Bay area, including USF.
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard and Pinellas County Commissioner Ronnie Duncan hope to launch a campaign over the next two years to promote the seven-county Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said to the St. Petersburg Times, “This will be one of the largest boosts to the state’s economy since Disney, since the interstate highway system.”
Biden said last week that while expanding I-95 costs $22 million per lane per mile, the high-speed rail will only cost $2 million dollars for the same amount.
In December, the Florida Legislature passed a bill paving way for SunRail. Gov. Charlie Crist quickly signed it to attract federal stimulus money for rail systems.
The benefits of this project are clear. Arguing that this federal grant is a waste is an extraneous claim. Without the SunRail plan, Florida wouldn’t have seen a dime from the federal government. Now, the grounds are set to get this project going.
Lydia Harvey is a junior majoring in mass communications.