Tonight’s Must Attend – High Speed Rail Open House

Taiwan's new High Speed Rail (HSR)Want to make eyes flutter and hearts skip with a single word? Buttonhole your favorite commissioner, developer, city planner or legacy media reporter. Sidle up close, check around for cameras and whisper: “rail.”

Have a strong drink or a defibrillator at the ready. You’re in for a roller coaster of a story. The history of rail will be explained in grand broad strokes as you rise to that single sensual sententious syllable — “jobs!”

Boom, the bottom falls out and you’re off. “Development!” “History!” Feel your body weight double with the hard swing to the left with “Green!” Followed by a gut-wrenching swing to the right with “Feds!” A stomach-flutter drop with “Delays!” A dizzying one-two punch with the double-drops of “pork-barrel” and “boondoggle.” A brief-skyward view of “The Future” quickly followed by the jaw-clenching drop of “Taxes.” You’ll strain against your seat belt as the brakes lock and you’ll coast into the station wild-eyed and confused, but exhilarated.

Here’s your chance for excitement as tonight there’s a whole room full of roller coaster conductors at the ready.

The Florida Department of Transportation will conduct a public information meeting to provide information on potential Polk County station locations for the Florida High Speed Rail project. Potential station locations include the following: SR 570 West Station, Kathleen Road Station and those station sites associated with the USF Polytechnic location. This public information meeting will be held in an open house format and will provide the opportunity for interested parties to briefly present their views. The open house will be held from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and the presentation of views will be held from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Project staff will be available to answer questions. — FDOT Press Release

You really should take the time to go. Yes, I know you’ve read the articles ad nauseum. But tonight you’ll get to mingle with the stars. The commissioners, the transportation ministers, the highbrow, the working class, the money and the open palmed will be there. Any college official worth his parchment will show. The city’s movers, shakers and brakemen will attend. You’ll see charts up close and numbers in columns. They’ll all add up and all make sense. And when they don’t, there will be someone helpful standing by who will tell you this:

The plan I favor should cost the Florida taxpayers the least amount. The ridership studies I believe obviously point out Lakelanders will ride the rail in droves. My favorite plan will mean jobs and development at the stop. The other guy is looking too far ahead (or too myopically.)

Smile, nod your ahead and agree. Because each and every one of them is right.

No matter where the stop is placed, the high speed rail project will cost you some money. No matter where the high speed rail station is built, Lakelanders will ride in droves. (Though your definition of “droves” may vary from theirs.) No matter where the rail stop is constructed there will be local jobs and development. No matter where the stop is dropped your grand-children will wonder why you picked “that place.”

In other words, the high speed rail is going to make you a little nauseous, cost you a little more money than you thought and your descendants won’t call you visionary.

And that is OK.

Because your transportation world is dying. Gasoline is never going to be plentiful. Energy is never going to be cheaper. Freeways are never going to be efficient. Your family car is a dinosaur.

Screech all you want. It’s a fact. We learn to build efficient people movers or we learn to stay put. While I’d be happy to turn most of Lakeland’s streets into bike paths and stay close to home, most people prefer travelling to the beach and the amusement parks. Rail will get us there, a little later then we hoped, a little more expensive than we like, and not exactly at the front door. But it beats pushing your mini-van.

[box type=”shadow”]By any means, attend tonight’s public meeting. Learn as much as you can about the three proposed stops in Lakeland. What? You didn’t know there were three? Yes, most of the talk centers around USFP and Kathleen Road, but ask a few questions about the proposed County Line stop.

At the western terminus of the Polk Parkway, that stop makes a lot of sense to the civil engineers, has land available for the stop and for development, will bring ridership from the growing West Hillsborough neighborhoods and is close to the Lakeland Linder Airport. Could you imagine our airport rivaling St. Petersburg for cost-conscious travelers? Disney vacation packages could save airport fees by choosing Lakeland Linder as their destination, add a short ride by bus or light rail to the County Line stop and finish with a quick high speed rail trip to Disney.[/box]

In an effort to re-educate the occasional cynical reader I’ll state: no members of my immediate family, friends or web design clients have asked for, influenced or threatened me with sleeping on the couch if I didn’t favor his or her chosen rail stop.

Creative Commons License photo credit: juicyrai