Saturday, April 19, 2008

CSX Information Presented at Downtown Lakeland Kiwanis Meeting

Lakeland Director of Community Development Jim Studiale spoke on the CSX project at the Kiwanis meeting yesterday, and I'm glad I was there to hear it.

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.

Senator Dockery

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.


Anonymous said...

Ocala Star-Banner Editorial 04/17/08, Brad Rogers says "As the Legislature approaches completion of the state budget, CSX's sweetheart deal just keeps rolling along." He goes on to state this was originally bundled 3 yrs ago, without any discussion before committees or on the floors of either House or Senate, into a 5-year DOT plan that was hundreds of pages long. While Medicaid, hurricane supplies sales tax amnesty, and senior programs are in stages of being pared down to cover budget shortfalls, a House committee advanced a CSX liability bill that limits CSX liability along the commuter line, and sets up a $200 million fund for victims. (By the way, who is to fund that?) House members tucked the CSX deal into a 130-page omnibus transportation bill, which includes every road project in the state, "effectively insulating it from any chance of being derailed." What politician, happily ensconced in their seat of power wants to cut any pork, thereby cutting their re-election chances? All this on top of CSX's first quarter profits of $351 million. Sure wish my retirement was growing at 46% in ANY quarter.

Our state, county, and municipal leaders are crying budget gloom and doom, but the state is willing to give away the farm, in exchange for maybe a little hickory stripe engineer's cap?

My opinion, worth just what it cost ya!

Anonymous said...

Why is there no discussion of rebuilding the original Seaboard Miami line from Wildwood direct to Auburndale for the additional trains? The roadbed is still there, much of it (at least through the Green Swamp) paved for the little-used Van Fleet Trail.

Darrene said...

I live and breath in Waycross, GA. A town at the mercy of CSX Railroad. They do as they please, and when they please to a small town in South Georgia. The noise and the ground shaking, from the trains and the infernal noise of the horn blasts throughout the night, night after night. You will never forgive youselves if you don't do everything yo can to defeat this from happening. Ask yourselves this question, why do they have to go through towns, why not simply go around the towns? I have no answer, I just don't get it

Interstate4Jammer said...

Regarding the Citrus Connection, I can say as one who depends on the bus system to get around that they have difficulty as it is staying on schedule with many of their lines, they don't need CSX making it worse.

Anonymous said...

The completion of the expanded Panama Canal will result in increased freight into the port of Jacksonville, which will result in increased freight on CSX lines. The completion should be 2014, I believe. Say hello to many freight trains. Must be why CSX needs to repair their lines.