Castor lobbies for rail money

MANATEE — A local congresswoman is going right to the top in lobbying for federal stimulus money to build high-speed rail in Florida.

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, urging his administration to consider Florida’s economic plight in deciding which rail projects to fund.

“Mr. President, Florida needs the jobs and economic investments that high speed rail can provide more than any other state,” Castor wrote.

Castor, whose district includes a sliver of Manatee County, was more succinct in a telephone interview Wednesday: “We need jobs. High-speed rail creates jobs.”

Florida is seeking $2.6 billion in stimulus money to build an Orlando-Tampa train capable of going at least 110 mph by 2015. The state also is seeking another $30 million to plan for an Orlando-Miami high-speed rail line.

Federal officials are expected to announce the winners as early as this month.

Castor’s letter said Florida’s proposal is “more than shovel ready” because it already has the necessary permits and right of way. The letter also cited Florida’s high unemployment and foreclosure rates, surge in food stamp recipients and stagnant incomes as other reasons why the state’s bid should be picked.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, also supports the high-speed rail project but has not written any letters to that effect, spokeswoman Sally Tibbetts said. Buchanan voted against the stimulus package.