Florida seeks funds for East Coast passenger service

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The push to restore passenger service along the Florida East Coast Railway route from Jacksonville to Miami is heating up. Since the state failed to get federal stimulus money to establish the new service, the Florida Department of Transportation wants to spend $118 million out of the state’s transportation trust fund, the Florida Times-Union reported.

While several rail projects in the U.S. have been rife with disputes, the FEC proposal has not, with most parties agreeing it’s a good idea. The state has an environmental study, the FEC is willing to host Amtrak trains, and the cities between Jacksonville and Miami are behind the plan. Now Florida is facing a hurdle that is the reverse of the problems most new rail passenger services face: The state is willing to invest in the project, but it needs federal matching dollars, which could be tough to find when the current attitude in Washington is to cut spending.

The funding is necessary to upgrade FEC tracks and build new stations in St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach, Titusville, Melbourne, Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, and Stuart.

Florida could seek grants, ask federal legislators to put the money in a spending bill, or try to get it via a new federal transportation bill expected this year. The state may also seek help from U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who recently became chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mica, who represents St. Augustine, has said he likes the idea of Amtrak on the Florida East Coast and would look to help fund the project.
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