Could high-speed rail service between Tampa and Orlando finally happen?

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A much-discussed but never-realized high-speed rail service between Tampa and Orlando may finally be more than a pipe dream, a Polk County commissioner said.

“We’re a lot closer today than we ever have been so we can’t let this opportunity get by,” said Commissioner George Lindsey.

Lindsey supports a plan from Brightline, a privately-owned rail service, to expand services from Orlando to Tampa with, ideally, a stop in Polk County.

The project is referred to by Brightline as “The Tampa to Orlando Higher-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Project.”

It’s an idea that has percolated in Central Florida for a long time.

“Any time we can expand the variety and type of transportation through Polk County is a benefit for all of our citizens,” said Lindsey.

Brightline is constructing a route from West Palm Beach to Orlando, which will connect South Florida and Central Florida with high-speed rail.

Speeds could reach as high as 125 miles per hour.

It is set to begin service next year, according to Brightline.

To extend to Tampa, Brightline plans to leverage $15.9 million in private funding in addition to $31.8 in funding through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (“CRISI”) discretionary grant program.

“Brightline has always looked to connect the State of Florida with modern, eco-friendly intercity rail. Our plans to expand to Tampa will create jobs and generate economic impact while integrating into public systems with the objective of connecting guests to the people and places they want to go. Our priority is to build meaningful connections to the state’s most populated region,” wrote a Brightline spokesperson in a statement.

“The private sector dollars behind it is an element that has not been part of the conversation in years past,” he said.

County commissioners are voting Tuesday on a final draft of a letter to be sent to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in support of Brightline’s plans.

The letter would become part of the application for the federal grant.

In it, it says Central Florida is expected to grow by 3 million people in the next 10 years.

I-4 is the only main highway linking Tampa and Orlando and is considered the nation’s deadliest road.

The infamous traffic congestion is getting worse, drivers say.

“It’s just too much. I don’t even know how else to say it. It takes way longer to get to Orlando than it used to,” said Marcy Riggar, who lives in Lakeland.

“I just don’t ever go out there. But I would love to be able to go out there more. I love Tampa, I just don’t love driving so I would take the train immediately,” said Rachel Campbell, who lives in Lakeland.

Preferred routes include aligning with existing roads.

“It’s premised on the idea of using existing transportation corridors and existing in-place infrastructure systems to help speed construction, lower costs and reduce environmental impacts,” said Mike Reininger, the CEO of Brightline Holdings, during a press conference in Orlando earlier this year.

If selected for the federal grant, the project would complete the preliminary engineering phase and pave the way for a quicker start of final design and construction, according to the draft letter being considered by county officials.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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