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May 21, 2018

Florida Trend's Floridian of the Year

Fla. Newsmakers of 2009

People who made an impact in business, economy, science, environment, government, education, sports, philanthropy, media and our fallen soldiers.

» Rail Transit / State Sen. Paula Dockery

State Sen. Paula Dockery
State Sen. Paula Dockery. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
Late last year the Legislature finally put the pieces of a rail deal together: CSX gets some $600 million to sell 61 miles of track to the state. The railroad will alter its freight flows, and the state will indemnify the carrier if there are accidents. The SunRail commuter line in the Orlando area will move ahead on the 61-mile stretch of track. South Florida's Tri-Rail system will get up to $15 million in additional funding each year. The ALF-CIO will preserve some union jobs along the way. And the state positions itself to lobby the federal government for $2.5 billion to fund a possible high-speed train from Tampa to Orlando to Miami.

Win-win-win-win? Yes, say development interests and those who believe the state finally took some big steps toward creating alternatives to highways. But the enthusiasm isn't universal. On the way to the deal, state Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland galvanized substantial opposition from those who felt the state was being railroaded. Dockery says she initially dug into the CSX deal because of its negative impacts on communities she represents, including Lakeland and Bartow. Over time she amassed data on track sales elsewhere and liability costs that convinced her the deal had been "poorly negotiated"and could be improved. Her dogged campaign stalled the deal for two years, with Dockery arguing it amounted to corporate welfare for CSX and a transit boondoggle for central Florida.

Dockery may have made few friends among transit advocates and economic development types in central Florida, but because of her efforts no lawmaker can say he walked into the deal unawares.

And the deal, though done, still leaves a question mark: The coming decades will prove whether 2009 marked the beginning of a transportation transformation in the state — or just the outlay of a lot of taxpayer dollars to shuffle the deck. — Mark Howard

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