Residents of Tampa and Orlando might finally be getting a solution to the dreaded Interstate 4 traffic. The Florida Department of Transportaion is taking bids from private companies to build a high-speed rail between the two cities.
This summer, Brightline submitted an unsolicited proposal to run a commercial high-speed rail line along the interstate - on land owned by the state and Central Florida Expressway Authority.
Florida had an opportunity to build a rail line in 2011, when Gov. Rick Scott was offered $2.4 billion in federal money for a similar project. Scott turned down the funding, saying it would have been a big financial burden on taxpayers. This project, however, would not involve taxpayer money.
Brightline, owned by All Aboard Florida, is the only privately owned and operated high-speed rail system in the state. The company already operates a route in South Florida, connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. It’s currently building an extension to that line, from West Palm Beach to Orlando. That project is expected to be completed in 2021.
Bob O’Malley, Brightline’s vice president of governmental affairs, was in Tampa Friday at the Cafe con Tampa weekly speaker series to explain the company’s ideas to take on the project.
“We're excited about coming to Tampa because it’s a vibrant, growing region,” he said. “You've got a lot of great connections and synergy between Tampa and Orlando, and that’s why we want to build a high-speed passenger rail.”
The route to Central Florida would stop at Orlando International Airport, where there’s already a terminal dedicated for rail. If Brightline’s bid is approved by the state, the train would run from the airport along an expressway to I-4, and to a still-undecided Tampa location. O’Malley said the company is considering about 10 sites between downtown Tampa and Ybor City.
As of now, O'Malley said the plan only involves a non-stop route between the two cities.
The Brightline project in South Florida has not rolled out without problems and some tragedy. At least six people have been killed in accidents with the trains, either as pedestrians or in vehicles.
O’Malley said that if Bridghtline operates on an I-4 route, the track would be in a sealed corridor, meaning cars and pedestrians would not have the same kind of access to the trains as if they were on a street.
“Just as we’re doing with South Florida, we’ll continue to do whatever we can to avoid that from happening and to operate the safest railroad that we can,” he said.
The Department of Transportation will be receiving bids for the project until Nov. 7, O’Malley said he hopes a decision will be made by the end of the year.