Tuesday, March 20, 2001
Congressman Mica hints high-speed rail
could be helped by federal funds
By MATT GRIMISON
NEWS-JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
TALLAHASSEE — As much as half the money for Florida's high-speed rail project, mandated by voters last fall, could come from the federal government, a ranking U.S. congressman said Monday.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, gave state leaders the encouraging news Monday during a summit between state and federal elected officials.
"Will the federal government provide cash? Yes," said Mica, who represents a large part of Volusia County and serves on the U.S. House Transportation Committee. "There will be money if you have a viable project."
Estimates put the cost of the state's high-speed rail at anywhere from $6 billion to $20 billion. It will link Florida's major cities, as required by a voter-approved amendment to the Florida Constitution.
Volusia County will be a player in the high-speed rail initiative, Mica added, because of a proposed commuter rail, now being studied, that would go between DeLand and Kissimmee. Currently, the first leg of high-speed rail is expected to run from Orlando to Tampa, and it would likely cross the path of the commuter rail, making it a "primary connector" to the high-speed rail, Mica said.
The state's high-speed rail is the subject of intense debate in the Florida Legislature, with three different proposals circulating in anticipation of the 2003 start-date for construction. One idea would create a high-speed rail authority to move ahead with construction, another would study the project for a year and the third would put another referendum on the ballot asking voters to reconsider the costly project.
The rail was one of many issues discussed by state and U.S. representatives at the third annual State/Federal Summit in Tallahassee on Monday. Mica and Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, whose districts include portions of Volusia and Flagler counties, spent most of the day discussing transportation issues since they are the only Florida representatives on the U.S. House Transportation Committee.
Mica touched on another important local transportation issue during the summit -- Daytona Beach International Airport. He said his new post as chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee will give him the opportunity to boost his efforts to help smaller airports, including Daytona Beach, attract more flights and improve service.
"When you can't get another flight into Orlando, there's still a lot of capacity in Melbourne, Daytona Beach and Fort Myers," Mica said. "Funding for small and regional airports is my absolute top priority."
Mica said he wants to provide money to help local governments lure airlines with financial incentives. Daytona Beach International has struggled for years to attract more carriers and flights.
Florida leaders need to make sure they receive their fair share of federal transportation funds, Mica said, adding that he wants the state to get even more than it has in the past. The money will pay for such important pending projects as replacing the Interstate 4 bridge over the St. Johns River and for widening both I-4 and Interstate 95.
Brown said keeping a close watch on transportation issues on the federal level is vital for Volusia and Flagler counties, as well as the rest of the state.
"I think it's very important because of the high growth in Florida," Brown said. "This partnership is very important... It's one of Florida's key issues."