February 3, 2009
The Honorable Charlie Crist
Governor of Florida
PL 01 The Capitol
Tallahassee FL 32399-0001
Dear Governor Crist,
Florida is about to make a hundred-year decision on transportation, similar to the 1950s, when Congress created the interstate highway system and forever changed neighborhoods whose voices were shut out.
The Florida Department of Transportation wants to close a deal with CSX Railroad that would create a freight super-railway through Starke, Ocala, Wildwood, Dade City, Plant City and Lakeland. These communities had no say in the matter – no knowledge it was even being planned – until former Governor Bush announced the deal was done.
As you know, I initially expressed concern about the CSX deal because it could send as many as 54 trains a day through downtown Lakeland, which already faces disruption from 16 daily trains. But after seeing the terrible terms this deal imposes on state taxpayers, and how little it would do to relieve congestion around Orlando, I’m compelled to ask your help in pursuing a better deal for Florida.
The last time we talked, you said you wanted a better understanding of the details. Take it from me, the facts are extraordinarily difficult to find. So after you honored me with an appointment to your Commission on Open Government, I realized I could submit a public-records request, too. What I found in the 27 boxes of disorganized documents that FDOT delivered would suggest that citizens needed a better negotiator!
Did you know that at $10.5 million per mile, Florida would pay the highest rail-sale price in U.S. history? And that taxpayers would pay for CSX’s mistakes on our tracks, even if the freight railroad is grossly negligent? And that the CSX route would take only 3,600 cars off Interstate 4?
Despite what you’ve heard, there is no federal money set aside for this $1.2 billion-and-climbing project, except for the $22 million given a company that builds rail cars and has since gone out of business. Indeed, the Federal Transit Administration says this project isn’t cost effective and will provide little relief to I-4. Only politics, not merits, will move this route up the federal priority list – the kind of politics that citizens rejected in the last election. People are tired of the giveaways and corporate welfare that government too readily hands out. They want government to tighten its belt, especially in these difficult days. And you should know that Massachusetts, for one, is standing down CSX’s hard-nosed demands.
Look, I’m a strong proponent of rail transit. My track record speaks for itself. But this project has all the makings of a white elephant that could actually harm Florida’s efforts to create meaningful routes for passenger rail – across regions and across the state.
As I’ve discovered in the past 18 months, the problems with the CSX deal transcend mile-long trains through Lakeland and citizens being shut out.
Yet on behalf of those citizens, and fiscal conservatives everywhere, I would ask you to again uncap your red pen. Tell interested parties you know we can do better, we must do better.
The CSX deal needs to be renegotiated to put the interests of Florida taxpayers above the profits of a Fortune 500 company. Solutions are apparent, but the private railroad refuses to consider them, unless even more money is spent to build even more private freight tracks.
With your muscle at the wheel, Governor, Florida can create a win-win for Central Florida, and all the taxpayers of this great state.
On a personal level, I’ve been briefing my colleagues on the CSX deal, one by one. My packet includes documents they’ve never seen before. I would appreciate the opportunity to brief you, too. I will call your office to see if we might find a good time.
Again, Governor, thanks for your consideration on this century-defining decision. I look forward to speaking to you soon.
With warmest regards,
State Senator, 15th District