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Hayes urges lobbying for rail

EAST MANATEE — Donna Hayes, chairwoman of the Manatee County commission, has asked her constituents to take part in a phone campaign to try and convince President Barack Obama to choose Florida for a high-speed rail system.

Speaking at her District 5 advisory committee meeting Friday at Tara Golf & Country Club, Hayes said that even though the first leg of the proposed line would connect Tampa and Orlando, it would affect business and jobs in Manatee County.

“We need you to call the president and let him know that he should provide $2.53 billion to fund construction of high-speed rail connecting Tampa and Orlando,” Hayes said.

Tampa resident Ed Turanchik heads a new high-speed rail advocacy group called ConnectUS, and the group is behind the phone campaign, Turanchik said Friday.

The White House phone number is (202) 456-1111 and callers can leave a message for the president, Hayes said.

In a press release, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said he thought the U.S. Department of Transportation could decide this month which states will be the recipients of a portion of the $8 billion in stimulus money being set aside for high-speed rail projects.

So far, according to Nelson, the Department of Transportation has received requests from 24 states for four times as much money as it has to give for high speed rail projects.

Florida’s Department of Transportation has applied for $2.53 billion for the Orlando-Tampa segment and $30 million in planning money for an Orlando-Miami segment, Nelson said.

So, what does Turanchik think of Florida’s chances to win the rail line?

“I have used a sports metaphor,” Turanchik said. “It’s late in the fourth quarter. We are deep in the red zone and it’s a very close game.”

If Florida gets the high-speed, conventionally powered trains, which will zip along at 168 mph, it would “reposition Florida in the global marketplace,” Turanchik said.

“We would have the first high-speed rail line in the Western Hemisphere,” Turanchik said.

High-speed rail could create 23,000 jobs, Hayes said.

But would some of those jobs be in Manatee?

“High-speed rail would create a super region of 7 million people from Central Florida to Tampa Bay,” Turanchik said.

“That means a huge workshed and a big talent base that would allow us to compete for 21st century jobs and attract 21st century businesses.”

The first rail leg will cost $2.5 billion, or $27 million per mile, Turanchik said.

Although the line is projected to go from Tampa to Orlando to Miami, express bus, cars and, eventually, regional commuter rail, would connect Manatee and Sarasota to the main line, Turanchik said.

“I feel that we are in a very competitive position and are able to begin construction within the year,” Hayes said.

Turanchik’s Web site is www.FastRailConnectUs.com

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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