Fla. commuter rail line breaks ground after years of planning


SunRail is under way on Monday as the federal government officially signed its part of the construction paycheck after years of talking and planning.

Local, state, and federal officials held a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday as the Federal Secretary of Transportation signed off on a $178 million agreement to build the rail line.

That money would pay for the first 31 miles of the commuter rail line, from DeLand to Orlando.

On Monday, officials used Florida Hospital as a backdrop for the groundbreaking. Florida Hospital is spending $3 million of its own money to build a rail stop for its 17,000 employees.

Federal Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood and local leaders signed a joint funding agreement on Monday that allows construction to start on phase one. The train will eventually run 61 miles, connecting DeLand to Poinciana.

"We're going to put about 11,000 people to work," said Rep. Corrine Brown.

SunRail is a $1.2 billion project. The federal government is supposed to pay $300 million and the state and local governments will split the rest, according to reports.

WFTV asked Rep. John Mica to justify spending the federal money when congress is struggling to get the nation's debt under control.

"It still sounds like a waste of money when you consider how few people would be riding this," said WFTV reporter Daralene Jones.

"Well, again, your initial operating figures are sometimes low on this system, but this is the beginning of a regional transportation system," said Mica.

The base fare to ride SunRail will be $2.50. People have to add a dollar for each county riders pass through. So, from Debary to Orlando it will cost $4.50. That's a dollar more than it would cost to put a gallon of gas in your car to travel the same distance.

"How do you convince people to give up their cars and ride a train?" asked Jones.

"Run it on time. You provide good quality service," said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Officials estimate 4,000 people will ride the daily service that will run every 30 minutes during rush hour, but every two hours during the rest of the day, and no service on the weekends.

That's one reason opponents said they have been fighting the project. They also believe taxpayers will be left to pick up the bill for cost overruns.

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