As the nation turns its attention to passenger rail as an alternative transportation system, Florida is at a crossroads. We have two choices before us. We can maintain the status quo by continuing to rely on highways and roads to keep our state connected, thereby allowing other states to receive our taxpayer dollars for transportation. Or we can create a comprehensive passenger rail system to keep those dollars here in Florida and strengthen our future economy.
We have a mounting need for alternative transportation. Florida’s economy depends on efficiently transporting people and goods. We cannot keep paving our landscape and ignoring proven alternatives. If we want to equip Florida to compete in the global economy and increase the interconnectivity between our cities we must invest in a transportation system that is broader than highways and roads.
We also have the opportunity to tap into federal funds that are being distributed to the states to support passenger rail projects. Every year Florida’s taxpayers send hundreds of millions in tax dollars to the federal government, only to see most of it distributed to other states. The Florida Department of Transportation has applied to receive several billion dollars’ worth of passenger rail funding to support shovel ready projects that would provide jobs today and long-term economic development.
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But the federal government has been very clear: Only those states that have shown a commitment to passenger rail will be seriously considered when the monies are distributed. The bill before the Legislature today creates a comprehensive statewide passenger rail system. It not only dedicates existing transportation dollars for developing and operating passenger rail systems throughout the state, but also creates a Rail Enterprise within FDOT that will be responsible for guiding all aspects of passenger rail networks.
In a time when almost 1 million Floridians are experiencing the pain of unemployment, our shovel-ready projects will provide jobs to those who are seeking ways to fulfill their financial obligations. Infrastructure projects are one of the most effective means of economic stimulus. These projects provide immediate construction jobs, and the development that inevitably follows brings more jobs and economic benefits for years to come.
Passenger rail is a proven mode of alternative transportation. Europe has used passenger rail systems for decades to increase tourism, link rural and metropolitan areas, and reduce the need for more roads. Other states that have made investments in rail enjoy a rich return of investment through increased job creation, economic development and reduced carbon emissions. These are the states and countries that Florida will compete with for business, commerce and growth.
The legislation under discussion will transform our transportation system, increase our connectivity and create a foundation for success in the 21st century. If Florida’s leaders are serious about investing in long-term economic success, they must have the courage to make bold decisions today.
State Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, can be reached at (941) 708-4968.