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Obama expected to announce funds for Florida's high speed rail project

(The following report appeared on the News-Press website on January 25, 2010.)

TAMPA — Local leaders say President Barack Obama will put billions of dollars behind the plan for a high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando when he visits the Tampa Bay area Thursday.

In a relatively rare move, Vice President Biden will join the president in Tampa.

The two will be spending the night before the Tampa visit together as well, when President Obama delivers his first State of the Union Address on Wednesday.

The subject of President Obama's speech here is still officially a mystery, but leaders like Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor are confident they have it figured out.

The president's stimulus plan included billions of dollars to fund high speed rail projects; the money is planned to be spread out across the country and officially awarded sometime soon.

To get that job-creation money, Florida is competing with nearly a dozen other regions. Rep. Castor says it looks like "we won" the fight.

The first leg of Florida's system — connecting Tampa and Orlando via Lakeland and Walt Disney World — is expected to cost about $2.5 billion.

Castor says it seems to her the decision to bring such big names to Tampa is a good sign the federal government may be picking up that entire cost.

The grass-roots group Connect US says the proposed high-speed train line from Downtown Tampa to Orlando International Airport could create more than 23,000 jobs over four years.

Local leaders agree with Castor's conclusion that the president and vice president will be here to announce high-speed rail funding. An Orange County commissioner said so this weekend, as did Tampa City Council Chair Thomas Scott.

Monday, January 25, 2010

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