CSX Deal: Nitty Gritty Time and the Unbarking Dog, errr, ILC

On Friday, the Orlando Sentinel’s impeccably fair Dan Tracy (no snark intended) wrote a good state-of-play story on the CSX deal. I’d quibble with a couple of things in the story, but they’re not worth going into here. Overall, it’s quite well-reported, and the conclusions are sound. Bottom line: The deal is in trouble, and the Orlando big guys know it.

“It’s not a sure bet that we are going to [succeed],” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer acknowledged. “It’s still more likely than not, but I wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent.”

For a group that has depended on the perception of inevitability and political muscle to jam this thing through, that’s an important – and damaging – acknowledgement.

The penultimate bottom line, concerning Lakeland, is this: Language aimed at assuring that new freight traffic caused by the CSX deal gets diverted out of downtown, which I already think has no meaning, appears headed for further watering down to appease Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

Fasano refused to hear the bill, arguing that this [previous] language would inject “politics” into the state formula to allocate transportation dollars.

So Constantine amended his language to allow a Polk County transportation-planning organization to determine what money is needed — a compromise Lakeland has said it supports.

Fasano said he supports it, too, and will vote for SunRail if his committee hears the bill as expected April 15.

I was curious about that new compromise language, so I asked City Commissioner and mayoral candidate Gow Fields to send it to me. From what I can tell, Fields has emerged as more or less the city’s top local government negotiator in the deal.

Via email, Fields responded that the new language does not exist yet and that what Tracy refers to in the story is “conceptual.” He said the city will not sign off on any language until it actually exists. He expects the actual language to be complete within a week to 10 days, which would mean unveiling it just before Fasano’s hearing. At this point, if the langauge read “CSX shall mitigate its impacts by the spraying manure from passing trains to encourage the growth of grass,” I suspect the city government would sign off on it, so desperate are they not to get blamed for killing anything. But as we consider the efficacy of this specific plan to rely on the TPO – a countywide organization – to get this freight diversion approved and funded, let us remember again that Lakeland can’t even convince Polk county government to join TBARTA.

But, as anyone watching this knows, the fate of the bill does not rest on what happens to Lakeland, one way or another. So the language debate is almost a sideshow.

Finally, I noted something that Tom Palmer noted in a recent blog post. Very matter-of-factly, Tom wrote:

CSX has not announced when construction will begin on at the 318-acre tract the railroad purchased from Winter Haven last year.

Why not? I wonder. Could it be that the company is waiting to see if it gets the at least $23 million in free money earmarked directly for the hub? You would think if all this was a done deal, we’d have a construction date. I’m already on record predicting no construction on the hub of the deal falls in Tally. I wonder if Tom is starting to think the same thing, or if I’m reading too much into his post. Perhaps he’ll answer.