City commissioners need to push hard for a high-speed rail stop in Lakeland when they meet at 1 p.m. today with a representative of Brightline, the company planning an Orlando-to-Tampa train route, Commissioner Justin Troller says.
Troller sparked a conversation about high-speed rail during the commission’s agenda workshop on Friday.
“We need to be prepared. We need to have a conversation about why can’t we get a stop while they’re building it and not an afterthought,” Troller said.
Brightline, the private company currently building a Miami-to-Orlando connection, had said Lakeland will be considered for a future stop after the $1.7 billion Orlando-Tampa segment is built, tentatively by 2021. Plans call for trains to use the Interstate 4 median through Polk and Hillsborough Counties.
Commissioners have scheduled a one-hour session at 1 p.m. today with Bob O’Malley, a former CSX official who was named Brightline’s vice president of government affairs in July.
O’Malley made a presentation about Brightline Thursday to members of Polk’s Transportation Planning Organization. Lakeland elected officials attending that meeting were Mayor Bill Mutz and Commissioners Troller, Scott Franklin, Bill Read and Phillip Walker.
Some takeaways from that meeting:
- Mutz urged that officials from Polk County and its cities unify behind a single plan and suggested it might be possible to have one stop in Lakeland and another in Davenport that would serve as a hub for light rail to the theme parks. He noted that the trains won’t necessarily stop at each station on every run.
- Franklin said that Brightline’s decision will be market-driven. The company will look for sites where they can make money quickly, not wait for development to catch up, he said. (When high-speed rail was contemplated nearly a decade ago, officials debated between I-4 sites like U.S. 98 that already have development and transit service and places like Florida Poly or County Line Road where population density is expected in coming decades.)
- Read said he left with the impression that the rail developers would be looking for suburban sites of 20 or 30 acres where they could profit from hotels, restaurants and other services.
At Thursday’s meeting, Troller asked O’Malley if Brightline was aware of plans between the city, Florida Department of Transportation and the Citrus Connection for bus service along U.S. 98 leading to a transit hub. O’Malley replied that those kinds of connections would be considered in selecting a station, according to city staffers attending the meeting.
Brightline is partnering with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and will soon be renamed Virgin Trains USA. Documents filed in connection with Virgin’s investment revealed that an average are of $35 per person is contemplated for the Orlando-Tampa route, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Projections call for a one-hour trip between Orlando and Tampa with trains running as fast as 125 miles per hour.
A previous proposal for high-speed rail between Orlando and Tampa was halted in 2011 when then-Gov. Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal funds for the project, saying he feared Florida taxpayers would be liable if it failed.