BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida last week received $66.6 million out of $80 million in federal grants distributed by the U.S. Department of Transportation for high-speed rail development.

Four other states received grants that represent the first round of payments for the $8 billion that was awarded around the country in January, a DOT spokesman said.

A Florida official said the first installment on the $1.25 billion it won earlier this year would help cover the next six months of work on the first phase of its 84-mile, high-speed segment from Tampa to Orlando.

That work includes completing 30% of the design, ramping up public outreach plans, updating ridership projections, buying rights of way, and doing preliminary station design, said Kevin Thibault, interim executive director of the Florida Rail Enterprise, a new agency within the state Department of Transportation charged with overseeing passenger rail service development statewide.

“All of this hard work and preparation is getting us closer to building the country’s first true high-speed rail system,” Thibault said. “We will eventually ask private companies to compete for the right to submit bids to build … the system.”

Florida’s first segment is estimated to cost $2.6 billion.

State transportation officials are planning to use a public-private partnership and offer a 30-year concession contract to design, build, operate, maintain, and finance the first segment, which may include offering the successful bidder a right of first refusal for the second phase from Orlando to Miami.

The P3 concession process is expected to begin in October or November.

The Tampa-to-Orlando segment cleared a major hurdle last month when the Federal Railroad Administration issued a record of decision essentially clearing the way for design of the project, which will operate in the median of Interstate 4 between the two cities.

State officials said work has already begun taking soil samples and conducting surveys.

The payments released last week are expected to be followed by more funding as the high-speed and intercity passenger rail program in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act continues to be implemented, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

In addition to Florida, California last week received a $6.2 million payment for track relocation work designed to create fewer delays and faster travel times along a route that connects San Francisco and Sacramento.

Another $5.7 million went to fund environmental assessments of planned new stations on the route between Milwaukee and Madison for high-speed rail service being planned by Wisconsin.

A $1 million payment went for planning projects to improve passenger train speeds in the 468-mile Empire Corridor in New York and $100,000 went to New Mexico to help the state create its first passenger rail system.

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