Like a horror-flick climax, where the presumed-dead bad guy awakens to take one last stab at his unwitting victim, light rail is back. In the movies, the villain's resurgence is typically short-lived. This beast, however, likely will stick around. It is, after all, in the state's Constitution.
On Nov. 7, Florida voters overwhelmingly ratified an amendment requiring construction of a state-wide rail network to begin by 2003. The insignificant details -- like how much it will cost, who will pay for it and where will it go -- were omitted.
With that amendment, C.C. Dockery, the frustrated former chairman of Florida's High-Speed Rail Commission, succeeded where so many others, including Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood and U.S. Rep. John Mica, had failed. Try as they might, that duo could not convince Central Florida that it needed a light-rail system last year. Mica grew frustrated that his repeated efforts in Washington went nowhere, thanks to an ungrateful public. The mayor's determination nearly cost her her job.
Dockery's proposal mirrored a similar one that Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed days after taking office. Bush said at the time that the cost -- at least $6 billion, assuming construction costs stay on target -- outweighed the benefits. Dockery turned his frustration into an organized effort to get the amendment on the ballot.
Opponents assumed the Florida Supreme Court would never allow it: The language, they thought, was simply too vague. So when the court OK'd it just weeks before the election, they were caught with their pants down. There was no organized opposition; opponents relied on newspapers to editorialize against it. The papers did so, but no one seemed to care.
That's just fine for Ed Turanchik. His Olympic-chasing committee, Florida 2012, saw a Tampa-Orlando rail line as critical to its success. (It's no secret that Dockery is on Florida 2012's Board of Governors.) Though the Tampa-Orlando Olympic bid has never been considered a frontrunner, the rail link gives the region a big boost: The first time an Olympic site-selection committee member got stuck in an I-4 traffic jam, it would all be over.
If Turanchik's right, the Olympics will bring a needed urban renewal to Florida's major cities, with added prestige and money to help finance much-needed redevelopment projects. Not everyone agrees: many believe hosting the Games will only put a city in debt. Either way, it's a boom for the developers and contractors who will build the Olympic Village and the new stadium, so it's not surprising that the Florida Legislature and local governments are wholly backing the bid.
Connecting Tampa and Orlando via rail isn't a bad idea. As traffic on I-4 worsens, it will become necessary. But let's be honest: voters screwed up -- though it might be fun to watch the fiscally conservative legislature scramble to find the estimated $10 billion to fund this one. Really, it's not like we needed the money for anything else.
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