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Rail group wants to fight Fla. bullet-train repeal effort

(The Associated Press circulated the following article by Jackie Hallifax on September 30.)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Environmental groups and labor unions have joined with high-speed rail supporters to fight the repeal of the project that voters approved just four years ago.

"We simply cannot build enough highways to keep pace with Florida's growth," Ken Walton, executive director of The Rail Truth, told reporters Wednesday.

Voters in 2000 approved a ballot measure to build a high-speed train linking Florida's five major urban areas. The project got on the ballot because of the efforts and the funding of Lakeland businessman C.C. "Doc" Dockery.

This November voters will face another ballot measure, championed by Gov. Jeb Bush, to kill the train. Bush argues the state cannot afford it.

The Rail Truth coalition includes the Audubon of Florida, the Florida Conservation Alliance and the Florida AFL-CIO. Dockery has given $75,000 to the group.

Audubon of Florida's Eric Draper said environmentalists supported high-speed rail as an important alternative to building more highways, which will lead to more air and water pollution and fragment wildlife habitats.

Mark Mills, a spokesman for the repeal campaign, said Tuesday that opposition had been expected.

"But we're confident that Florida voters will see the folly in wasting $25 billion when we have other vital needs such as education, transportation and health care," Mills said.

The $25 billion price tag, which covers 30 years, is conservative, he said.

Walton argued the true cost was $75 million a year out of a $58 billion state budget.

As implemented by state lawmakers and managed by a high-speed-rail authority, the first phase of the project will run from Orlando to Tampa-St. Petersburg. The second leg, in the planning stages, goes to Miami.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

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