Thursday, June 11, 2009

SunRail plan, on brink of expiring, racks up $44 million cost

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Florida legislators May 1 rejected a proposed $1.2 billion regional rail system, "SunRail," centered in Orlando and envisioned to serve five nearby counties, but Florida’s Department of Transportation still must honor $44 million in costs owed numerous suppliers.

The costs include $462,000 owed to CSX Transportation, for rail safety inspection, flagging, and signal maintenance. CSX had planned to sell right-of-way to the state as part of the proposal.

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State Sen. Paula Dockery, who helped defeat the proposed rail plan, said the cost was  "an outrage," saying FDOT and other SunRail supporters spent "a quarter of a million taxpayer dollars to lead rallies and bus businesspeople upto Tallahassee to lobby this flawed CSX commuter-rail deal." SunRail backers said the costs were necessary to prepare for the proposed service. Moreover, "We don't see this as a waste of money," said Christine Kefauver, representing Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who supported SunRail. "A lot of environmental work has been done that has a shelf life."

FDOT records show that the largest sum, $10.1 million, is owed to EarthTech, the project’s primary consultant. Other contractors reimbursed, or to be paid, include: Lochrane Engineering, $3.4 milllion: WRS Environmental Services, $2.6 million; URS Corp., $1.9 million; and Shutts and Bowen, real estate attorneys, $1.7 million.

Unless other means are found to fund SunRail, the deal struck by CSX and FDOT expires June 30.