Fellow TPO Board Members:
After reading the most recent media story regarding High Speed Rail, I felt it was vitally important that I correct the appearance that I have been stating two different ideas as it relates to where Polk County’s High Speed Rail Station should be located. The most recent media article states that I prefer a stop at Kathleen Road and /or US 98 North. This is not correct. I prefer we first have a stop in Polk County and secondly that we put our best effort into supporting that stop with transit connectivity. The successful passage of the November referendum to fund county-wide mass transit for Polk County is a crucial element in the success of any rail stop.
I believe some background is important at this point. Two weeks ago I was interviewed by our local news media. During that interview there was lengthy discussion clarifying that there are five possible sites (not two) that will receive some level of consideration in Polk County as a High Speed Rail stop. We also spent time discussing that it was difficult to identify a preference because we do not know what will drive the final decision-making process. I then referenced the initial procedure that led to high speed rail applications from around the country being submitted to the Federal Government last December. Florida was told that only “shovel ready” projects were to be submitted for funding consideration based on Federal guidelines. After submission, the criteria obviously changed because 13 funding awards were made and only three of them were for high speed rail systems that are reasonably close to being shovel ready. The remaining projects received money ranging from planning dollars to funds for the expansion of an existing passenger rail system.
Based on what happened at the Federal level during the original process, the criteria could change as it relates to what is the recommendation for Polk’s High Speed Rail stop. In an effort to make sure the point was clear during media interviews, I explained that if a location was chosen today based on the 2009 criteria it would lead you to the Kathleen Road/US 98 North Corridor because of population density and transportation infrastructure. I further explained that if the criteria allowed for a longer planning horizon and looked for a location with the greatest development potential in the future, it would lead you further east to the USF Polytechnic/Williams Company site. I then pointed out that the operator would most likely make the ultimate decision based on their return on investment. We must stand ready in unified support to any of the five possible sites that may get chosen by making sure the appropriate level of transit connectivity occurs with county-wide bus service.
Over the last two weeks there have been four news stories by three different reporters and only one of the articles clearly articulated the City of Lakeland’s position of being cautious. I will state it again here. It is premature for us to choose a site until we know more about the process and the criteria that will be used to make the final decision. All of the sites under consideration have positives and negatives. Our top priority must be securing a stop in Polk County. Secondly, and of even greater importance is that we become laser focused on making sure our referendum for county-wide bus service is successful this November. Without its passage we will fail to provide the opportunity for visitors arriving at the station to have the appropriate transportation to their ultimate destination. We would further fail to provide our citizens the opportunity for convenient access to this mode of transportation and multimodal choices in the Central Florida region.
Gow B. Fields, Mayor
City of Lakeland
228 South Massachussetts Ave.
Lakeland, FL 33801