No one could have predicted this would happen.
As the Orlando Sentinel reports, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, says his Transportation and Economic Development Committee will not hear the CSX freight realignment bill until language addressing Lakeland is either killed or gutted further from its already rather acute state of meaninglessness.
Here’s the money passage from the Sentinel reporting:
In the time-compressed politics of the Florida Legislature, the [delay] is a serious sign of trouble for the insurance legislation CSX Corp. and the Orlando region need to consummate the state’s purchase of the 61 miles of tracks for commuter trains.
Senate Transportation and Economic Development budget chief Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said SunRail backers had not addressed his concerns with language meant to bump Lakeland up on the waiting list for transportation dollars to divert freight traffic away from its downtown.
Lakeland officials have long complained the commuter project would send more freight-train traffic rumbling through their downtown. But Fasano has been upset that the plan to appease Lakeland by bumping them up in the state’s transportation construction waiting-list would throw a wrench into the state’s system designed to take political considerations out of the ranking of road projects.
“Nothing’s changed,” Fasano said.
Remember, this is the language Fasano currently can’t accept:
“Following the completion of the department’s alternative rail traffic evaluation, the department shall begin a project development and environmental study that must be reviewed and approved by appropriate federal agencies so that a preferred alternative can be identified which minimizes the impacts associated with freight rail movements along the corridor. This preferred alternative shall become the basis for future development of this freight rail corridor and shall be prioritized for funding in the department’s work program no later than 10 years from commencement of construction of the CSX Integrated Logistics Center…”
That language itself is a step back from the House language, which talks about “eliminating” excess traffic within eight years of the start of the commuter system in Orlando. There are more holes in the Senate language than a golf course, but it’s still not acceptable to Fasano.
Hmmmm. You know, I’m beginning to think I’ve been wrong about the city’s approach to all of this. I used to think they were well-meaning, but a little naive, and unwittingly serving Orlando’s unsuccessful efforts to isolate Paula Dockery. But now, I’m reassessing. Maybe this was their strategy all along. Successfully negotiate language for Lakeland that requires spending somewhere between $500 million and $1.2 billion and then watch it become a poison pill. That’s pretty subtle, even skillful. Kudos.
The next big question is whether the Orlando folks will strip the Lakeland language. My guess is they will. But it’s just a guess. Yet simply getting the language in the bill in the first place has slowed it down and caused more headaches for the Orlando folks. For that, the cynical political operator in me says: “Well played, sirs.”
And finally, I now think that if the freight realignment deal goes down, and CSX gets no public money for the hub, it won’t get built – at least for a number of years. I base that sense partly on some completely unreliable third-hand scuttlebut I’ve heard and partly on common sense. The stuff and vehicle-based economy that drove the push for this hub has crashed and faces long-term structural hurdles to returning to what it was in 2005. At the same time, Florida’s explosive population growth, which also drove the rationale for the hub, has halted.
I’m willing to put my – meager – money where my mouth is. Anybody who wants to bet a $1 on the fate of the hub if the realignment deal goes down, drop me a line.