I'm one of those bloggers who just hasn't wanted to get involved in this topic. Chuck over at Lakeland Local , Josh at Empirical Polk and Billy Townsend at the Tampa Tribune have done a superb job at covering the controversial topic and they seemed to know and understand far more about it than I perhaps cared to know. But to be honest, the more I read of their blogs, the more irritated I got at the fact that this project may very well happen, whether the citizens like it or not. So it was great to get a crash course of sorts on the CSX project yesterday.
Throw in Sen. Paula Dockery's comments at the end, and I was sold on what a railroad job (pun intended) this has turned out to be.
Here are some myths that were busted- again- yesterday:
Myth #1- Train traffic will increase by just 2-4 trains daily.
Currently, 20 trains go through Downtown daily. Improvements to the S Line will make it possible to increase that to 54 trains daily. Sen. Dockery and Studiale both said CSX officials have indicated a desire to put as many trains as possible on that track.
Currently, the trains that roll through Downtown are 1,000 feet long. If the CSX deal goes through, future trains will be as much as two miles long.
Myth #2- Lakeland is opposed to commuter rail.
The city built the Downtown train station with future commuter rail in mind. They certainly didn't sink all of that money into building a nice train station for the four Amtrak trains that used to stop in Lakeland, which has dwindled to two stops today.
Myth #3- The CSX project will bring $40 million per year in taxes to the county.
Railroads have special taxing. This project actually will generate about $437,000 in tax revenue.
The good news, according to Dockery, is that as of Friday, this deal is dead in the Senate. The bad news is that there are two weeks left in the session.
This is not a commuter rail project, Dockery said, adding, "This is a freight project to get a subsidy into CSX's pocket."
Dockery's argument is that if they want to do that, they can do it with their own money, not taxpayer dollars. And there's no reason why they shouldn't- CSX is a company whose revenue has risen 12 percent to a record $2.7 billion.
Regarding the infamous liability issue where CSX wants the state to assume all liability for accidents that occur on the tracks- even those caused by CSX- Dockery mentioned that the state would be taking on a company "with a very bad safety record."
Here are some additional facts presented yesterday that I feel are worth repeating:
- Lakeland's urban area includes about 255,000 people. Those in favor of this project have drawn a picture of a sleepy little town full of NIMBYs who don't want progress. In fact, Lakeland is the largest city in inland Florida, after Orlando.
- Lakeland has managed growth with a Downtown bias. Downtown truly is the heart of the city. Years of work by the CRA has resulted in a thriving downtown community that until recently, only lacked a residential element. Today, renting and owning housing Downtown is a reality. Increased freight traffic will make additional residential opportunities more difficult.
- In other cities, Lakeland is heralded for its inner city growth and comprehensive plan. The city recently purchased 16 acres behind the Lakeland Police Department- a severely drug- and prostitution- infested, blighted area- and has plans to bring 500 units to the area. This will not be low-income housing.
- Lakeland's Citrus Connection bus system increases in ridership every year. Last year, it increased by 36 percent. Because of the bus station's location near the S Line, increased train traffic will make it impossible for buses to remain on time. This will jeopardize ridership, because people will not use the buses to get to work or appointments if it's going to take an inordinate amount of time to get from Point A to Point B, or if they can't be reasonably assured that the bus will arrive on time.
As a voter and a resident of Lakeland, I don't want this raw deal to be spoon-fed to Lakeland residents. On Monday, April 21, the Downtown Lakeland Partnership will hold the Anti-CSX Rally in Munn Park. People will begin gathering at noon and speakers will take the stage at 12:30 p.m.
For more information, contact DLP Executive Director Julie Townsend: 863-513-3669.