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Support Needed for Brightline’s Expansion to Tampa

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Brightline train need pupport for Expansion to Tampa

Two transportation boards spanning the “super-region” of Tampa Bay and Orlando will consider a resolution on June 14 that urges the state to bring expanded passenger rail service to Interstate 4.

Citing rapid population growth, the resolution says Brightline’s new passenger line and increased Amtrak service should be accommodated along the gridlocked corridor.

“The issues of traffic congestion, travel time reliability, safety and jobs access are at a critical breaking point in the I-4 corridor. … The expansion of regional passenger rail between the Atlantic Coast, metro Orlando and Tampa Bay will complement our continuing multi-[Metropolitan Planning Organization] and multidistrict regional collaboration efforts to ensure productive traffic flow and safe, reliable travel along the I-4 corridor,” the resolution says.

The Sun Coast Transportation Planning Alliance and Central Florida MPO Alliance, which will vote on the joint resolution, encompass 12 metropolitan planning organizations representing 18 counties.

Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, will present the item.

The higher-speed Brightline train, which currently connects Miami and Orlando, has long planned to expand to Tampa. A $50 million appropriations request to assist in that effort fizzled out last legislative session.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said in April that space on I-4 will be preserved for train service but the state will not directly assist Brightline with grants. Local officials in the Orlando area are working to expand SunRail, its local passenger rail service, to Orlando International Airport and other destinations along a track shared with Brightline. The proposal could cost upward of $4 billion and needs funding to move forward.

The Florida Department of Transportation will soon undergo an approximately $2.4 billion highway project to add general use and express lanes across 14 miles on I-4 in Polk, Osceola and Orange counties. The project — funded through the Moving Florida Forward program — is expected to last 10 years, according to the Orlando Business Journal.

“Even with the laudable efforts of the Florida Department of Transportation and the governor’s Moving Florida Forward initiative, we risk falling further behind in coming years without fully developing safe and efficient multimodal transportation options to support traffic and economic growth in the I-4 corridor,” the resolution says.

Amtrak, meanwhile, currently offers one daily trip from Tampa to Orlando with stops in Lakeland and Kissimmee on its Silver Line. Florida doesn’t have an agreement with Amtrak to help fund the service, unlike other states.

“This resolution recognizes that Brightline and Amtrak offer different service options for distinct travel markets and price points to connect people to jobs, education and other destinations, and thus may operate complementarily service rather than competitively.

“Other complementary actions, including station area planning, advanced air mobility, infrastructure support for the trucking industry, and enhanced operations and systems management must be part of this regional mobility package,” the resolution says.

The Sun Coast Transportation Planning Alliance first voted to prioritize rail service in 2022.

The joint meeting will occur at FDOT’s District 1 office in Bartow. FDOT will also update board members on the Moving Florida Forward program.

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