BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is urging U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to approve Florida’s application for high-speed rail funding now that lawmakers have passed a statewide rail policy and funding bill.

That comprehensive bill passed in a special session of the Legislature, which culminated last week. In addition to designating a formal agency and appointed commission to oversee publicly developed rail projects, it provided dedicated funding sources for existing and new rail projects.

Crist is expected to sign the bill into law on Wednesday, according to his office personnel.

“The transportation bill … resoundingly demonstrates Florida’s support for passenger rail transportation,” Crist said in a letter to LaHood late last week. “It will not only modernize transportation in our most highly populated areas, but will also create jobs at a time when our state’s unemployment rate tops 11%.”

Florida is among dozens of states seeking a portion of the $8 billion in federal stimulus funding set aside for high-speed rail projects around the country in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was enacted in February.

The Florida Department of Transportation has submitted two applications to the Federal Railroad Administration’s High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program under the stimulus bill.

The project considered near shovel-ready, and which has been widely studied, is a Tampa-to-Orlando route. The state DOT is seeking $2.6 billion in federal funding for this project and already owns the right of way.

“As you know, acceptance of Florida’s Track 2 Application this year will ensure that implementation of the Tampa-Orlando segment can begin in 2010,” Crist’s letter to LaHood said. “Therefore, I formally request your approval of Florida’s application to develop high-speed rail.”

The Florida DOT has also submitted a second application for another $30 million in federal funding for a project development and environment study of a second phase of the state’s high-speed rail corridor between Orlando and Miami.

However, there is plenty of competition for the federal funding.

The FRA has received 45 applications from 24 states seeking approximately $50 billion to advance large high-speed rail corridor programs and 214 applications from 34 states totaling $7 billion for corridor planning and smaller projects.

Federal stimulus funds for high-speed rail development are expected to be awarded this winter.

In addition to creating a statewide rail policy in the bill passed last week, Florida lawmakers also resolved liability issues that will allow a central Florida commuter system called SunRail to go forward.

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