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Florida high-speed rail opponent puts cost at $100 billion

(The Associated Press circulated the following story on July 9.)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Building a high-speed train will probably cost Florida more than $100 billion over three decades, an economist for opponents said Thursday.

"I am concerned that Florida could be headed for the creation of your very own Amtrak," Brian Campbell, a consultant for opponents, told a state panel analyzing the costs of a proposed ballot measure to repeal the train.

The panel, made up of analysts and economists, heard from supporters of the train last month.

Voters in 2000 approved a ballot measure ordering the state to build a high-speed train. The first leg of the proposed rail network will run from Orlando to Tampa and construction could begin next summer. The plan is for the train to eventually connect Tampa and Orlando with Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

The state would commit $75 million a year under the plan prepared by Fluor Bombardier, the private group that is negotiating a contract with the state to design, build and operate the train.

Gov. Jeb Bush, a persistent and loud critic, and Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher want to get voters to repeal the provision with a ballot measure they are trying to get on the November ballot. They say the state can't afford the train.

Derail the Bullet Train, the campaign to repeal the project, needs half a million verified signatures by early August to make the November ballot. The state Division of Elections put the campaign's total Thursday at nearly 185,000 signatures.

Campbell, who chairs a transportation economic research consulting firm in Washington, testified for the anti-rail campaign Thursday. He argued that proponents of the train have overestimated how much time it would save on trips from Tampa to Orlando and how many riders it would attract.

Campbell also said rail supporters had underestimated the true costs of the project, which he estimated to be $6.4 billion for the first leg from Tampa to Orlando and $17.2 billion from Orlando to Miami and $73.4 billion for rest of the state.

"I don't see the commercial value of it," he said.

In a letter to the state panel, Gallagher made several of the same points, including a warning that federal support for the project is unlikely to be forthcoming.

Last month, supporters told the panel that the train would make money for Florida in the long run - and that killing the project would cost the state tens of thousands of jobs and billions in economic activity.

Fluor Bombardier has said Florida will reap $2.3 billion in profit after the train is up and running and the costs have been recouped.

Keith Lee Rupp, the head of a group supporting the train, criticized Campbell's analysis as flawed.

Friday, July 9, 2004

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