Riding the Rails
Today I’m pleased to report the picture is brighter. As you will see in the region-by-region reports in the "Economic Yearbook 2010," Florida is starting to bounce back as it always has. While we’re not out of the woods, there are signs of job growth and “a slowly expanding economy,” according to experts at places like the University of Central Florida.
A recovery comes from two directions. It comes from the tens of thousands of independent decisions made by individuals and companies to purchase goods, buy property, launch a new product or hire a couple of workers. Recovery can also come from the impact of a Big Idea.
One of the biggest of those ideas right now is high speed rail. The idea was germinated by local officials in Tampa, Orlando and Miami and is backed by the largesse of the federal government. To learn more about the plan, I jumped in my car in early March and headed to the rail conference at the new Hilton hotel that’s connected to the Orange County Convention Center.
Now let me say that I love my car. And I love to drive because I can set my own pace, carry my own stuff in the trunk and maneuver easily from place to place. Even so, I-4 does not exactly excite me, and I don’t recall ever saying to my wife, “Oh glory, today I get to drive to Orlando on I-4.” Here’s the dream — from Tampa to Orlando in 56 minutes, reading the latest issue Florida Trend and sipping a cup of coffee along the way.
The rail conference was worth the trip, and it was great to see officials from both political parties agreeing on the advantages. As former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez said from the podium, “High speed rail is an economic development engine, and the time has come for us to say ‘yes we can.’ ”
The plans are further along than I had realized. The Florida Department of Transportation already has the Tampa-Orlando route almost mapped out, with most of the right-of-way designated, including locations for stations in downtown Tampa, Disney, the convention center and the Orlando airport. The developers, architects and real estate lawyers who filled the audience all see a bonanza in the retail centers, office buildings and condos that could spring up near the stations.
The availability of land to build the system from scratch, the flat terrain and the moderate distances between cities are some of the reasons rail will work so well in Florida, the advocates explained. A question on most people’s minds is just how the system will connect with highways and bus routes because without that interconnectivity, the trains will be just fancy ornaments.
But if we believe President Eisenhower’s interstate system transformed our countryside and brought huge economic benefits, then we will also support a national rail system — of which Florida is an early segment. You can count on Florida Trend to keep you updated on developments as they occur.
New Year’s Resolution Update:
February was a bit disappointing. Only eight sessions in the gym. But I have an excuse: After I donated blood at the blood mobile, the nurse told me to take it easy for a while.
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