ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida will need full funding to build a high-speed rail network from Tampa to Orlando, and eventually on to Miami, Nazih Haddad, chief operating officer for the state’s new Florida Rail Enterprise program, said yesterday.
“We have been very busy ... ever since the announcement by the [Federal Railroad Administration],” which awarded $1.25 billion in federal stimulus funds for Florida’s high-speed rail project, Haddad said in the opening session of the nonprofit U.S. High Speed Rail Association’s annual conference in Orlando.
The two-day conference has drawn more than 300 attendees from 20 countries to hear about Florida’s project — expected to be the first in the country to break ground under the Obama administration’s high-speed rail initiative — as well as an ambitious 17,000-mile national network envisioned by the association.
The state’s 85-mile, first-phase project from Tampa to Orlando is shovel-ready but short of funding. This phase received about half of the total cost of the project, Haddad said.
The Florida Department of Transportation applied for $2.5 billion in federal stimulus funds to build the first phase of the project and continue planning on the second phase from Orlando to Miami. The state has already purchased the necessary right of way and nearly completed federal environmental permitting on the Tampa to Orlando phase.
But state officials are moving forward on both phases of the project, which encompasses the entire route that has been approved by federal transit authorities.
While the funding for Florida’s request fell short, the Obama administration said when announcing high-speed rail grants nationwide on Jan. 27 that it was anticipated to be the first round of federal funding.
Since the first grants were announced, Haddad said several meetings have occurred with the FRA to develop “milestones” by which the state would receive federal funds.
“We are going to build the entire project,” he said. “We need full funding.”
Though no federal funds are in hand yet, Florida transportation officials are in the process of determining how the first phase will be constructed — through a public-private partnership or some combination of public and private partnership, And the state has hired consultants to move forward with planning the second phase from Orlando to Miami, Haddad said.
The state expects to have a clearer picture of the developing and financing strategy for the first phase in the next six months “so we can move forward with this project,” Haddad said.
There was much concentration early yesterday on Florida’s high speed rail plan, although U.S. and international speakers addressed the overall benefits of building a nationwide system and the development of Europe’s rail system decades ago, which was sparked by the need for congestion relief and energy conservation.
Other sessions are planned during the conference to discuss financial strategies and the potential for private investment.