Friday, January 28, 2011

High Speed Rail Station in the Green Swamp?!?

photo by Scott Wheeler of the Lakeland Ledger

Central Florida will soon be the site of the Western Hemisphere’s 1st high speed rail, or HSR. Sierra Club supports HSR, as offsetting road construction and reductions per trip in CO2 emissions alone would be reason enough. HSR promises to boost the regional economy, increasing property values, expanding labor markets, and making possible more face-to-face business interactions so critical to today’s knowledge economy. All this while cleaning our air and reducing the dependence on foreign oil that keeps Florida vulnerable to the chant of drill, baby, drill.

Some predict rail will fail because not enough people will choose it instead of their cars for trips between Tampa and Orlando. To succeed, HSR stations must be located where they will attract enough riders. Lakeland and Polk County, linking HSR’s 2 destinations, is now debating where to put its stop. Three choices are now on the board:
  1. At the west end of the Polk Parkway at Clark Road.
  2. At the edge of the Green Swamp, on the east end of the Polk Parkway, in an area now planned as the site of a new University of South Florida Polytechnic campus.
  3. Or in between @ Kathleen Road.

Wednesday evening Polk residents packed a room at the Lakeland Center for a FDOT hearing on the alternatives. Sierra Club prefers Clark Rd. due to its proximity to the Lakeland Linder airport and neighborhoods more likely to provide riders. Clark, connected to the Polk Parkway, will also not require much expansion of existing bus transit and will add riders from nearby eastern Hillsborough Co., including Plant City.

The USF Polytechnic site, however, would serve no one today, with only minimally adequate ridership for at least a decade after construction of a new campus with nearby retail and residential development. Placing the county’s only HSR site there would facilitate a huge new development that would impact the wildlife corridor running from the Green Swamp, an Area of Critical State Concern, to Charlotte Harbor.

As has so often been the case in Florida, the rich and powerful in Polk County lined up Wednesday to support the USF option that would benefit only their dreams of development. But it’s not too late for you to have your say. Mail your written comment by February 11th to:

Nazih K. Haddad, P.E.
Florida Department of Transportation
605 Suwannee Street, MS-25
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0450

Don't let our tax dollars be used to facilitate this development. Tell FDOT you support the Polk Parkway West (SR 570) Station, a.k.a. Clark Rd., as it will serve more high speed rail riders while helping protect the Green Swamp/Peace River wildlife corridor.

The Lakeland Ledger and WMNF-FM 88.5 covered Wednesday's hearings. Click on their links for their stories.

Phil Compton, Regional Representative
Sierra Club FL, St. Petersburg office
727-824-8813, ext. 303