The potential for high speed rail to address a portion of the transportation needs of the State of Florida has a long history. The current effort to evaluate high speed rail’s potential was initiated following an enactment by Florida’s voters. In November 2000, Florida’s voters adopted an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Florida that mandated the construction of a high speed transportation system in the state. The amendment required the use of train technologies that operate at speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour (mph) and consist of dedicated rails or guideways separated from motor vehicle traffic. The system was to link the five largest urban areas of Florida and construction was mandated to begin by November 1, 2003, to address a high speed ground transportation system.
The purpose of Article 10, Section 19 of the Constitution of the State of Florida was, “to reduce traffic congestion and provide alternatives to the traveling public.” In June 2001, the Florida State Legislature, through the Florida High Speed Rail Authority Act, created the Florida High Speed Rail Authority (FHSRA) and charged the organization with the responsibility for planning, administering, and implementing a high speed rail system in Florida. The act also mandated that the initial segment of the system be developed and operated between St. Petersburg, Tampa, and Orlando areas with future service to the Miami area.
Following its creation in 2001, the FHSRA proceeded to implement the responsibilities set forth in the Florida High Speed Rail Authority Act. The FHSRA’s proposal included the provision of high speed rail passenger service between downtown Tampa and Orlando International Airport. This project, while viewed by FHSRA as the first phase of the eventual achievement of the constitutional goal, has independent utility, in that it serves as an important transportation purpose in its own right and its implementation is not dependent upon future actions that may or may not be taken to expand high speed rail service beyond this project’s limits. The FHSRA, with guidance from the federal lead agency, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), undertook a number of other actions to advance the high speed rail system, which are discussed in greater detail in Section 2, including preparation and issuance of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in August 2003 that preceded this Final EIS.
The FHSRA envisions possible future federal financial support for the project that might be provided through the FRA. While FRA and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) have several loan and loan guarantee programs that might be potential sources of future financial assistance, there are currently no existing grant or federal bond financing programs that would support the type of financial involvement envisioned by FHSRA. Several proposals to create such programs, however, are currently pending before Congress. The FRA may also have certain regulatory responsibilities, with respect to the project, which are consistent with its statutory railroad safety oversight activities. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) are cooperating agencies for this document.
On November 2, 2004, Florida voters repealed the amendment to the Constitution of the State of Florida in its entirety resulting in removal of the constitutional mandate for a high speed rail system. This action, however, did not affect the legislative mandate for the FHSRA and the Florida High Speed Rail Authority Act remains in effect pending any action that the Florida Legislature may choose to take. The future of the proposed high speed rail system in Florida is thus uncertain. Notwithstanding this uncertainty, the FHSRA continues to believe that high speed rail can serve an important transportation purpose. FHSRA has also determined, and the FRA agrees, that it is in the best interest of the State of Florida to complete and issue this Final EIS. Considerable resources have been invested in bringing the document to this late stage of development and completing the environmental impact assessment process through issuance of a Final EIS has significant value, even if no further action is taken at this time to advance the proposed system.
Study Purpose and Need
The purpose of the proposed project was to enhance intercity passenger mobility between Tampa and Orlando by expanding passenger transportation capacity and providing an alternative to highway and air travel. This mobility is viewed as essential for the sustained economic growth of the region, as well as the quality of life of the region’s residents and visitors. Presently, passenger mobility in the Tampa-Orlando corridor is provided primarily by highway, in particular by I-4. Transportation demand and travel growth, as prompted by social demand and economic development and compared to existing and future roadway capacity, show a serious deficit in available capacity. In addition, increasing population, employment, and tourism rates continue to elevate travel demand in the study corridor, as documented by forecasts prepared by the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
The Florida Intrastate Highway System (FIHS) is already operating at or near capacity during an extended peak hour period of each day, and although capacity improvements to the interstate system along the corridor are either currently underway or planned for the near future, they are considered interim, “first phase” improvements. Ultimately, additional capacity improvements are needed to accommodate the future travel demand and are not currently programmed. The need for these improvements is further accentuated by increasing traffic volumes, congestion, and accident rates within the study corridor.
In 1991, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) established a limit of ten lanes (five lanes in either direction) at any location on the FIHS. The three Master Plans governing I-4 within the project area were all adopted under this policy. Interim construction and ultimate ROW acquisitions are to maintain consistency with these Master Plans. The Master Plans also identify an envelope in the median for High Occupancy Vehicles or Light Rail Transit. Further, the 2002 “Development of the Florida Intrastate Highway System” (FDOT Procedure 525-030-250-f) and the 2003 “The Florida Intrastate Highway System Program Development Procedure” (FDOT Procedure 525-030-255-c) set up specific criteria for widening all roads on the FIHS. These procedures were developed based on year 2000 legislation (Section 335.02(3) F.S.), which establishes criteria that must be considered when determining the number of lanes on the FIHS. The procedure notes:
Nothing in Section 335.02 (3) F.S. precludes a number of lanes in excess of 10 lanes. However, before the Department may determine the number of lanes should be more than ten, the availability of ROW, and the capacity to accommodate other modes of transportation within the existing rights of way must be considered.
This criterion also requires consideration of multi-modal alternatives and the consideration of local comprehensive plans and approved metropolitan long range transportation plans (LRTP). This requirement addresses the need for alternative transportation choices for those individuals who cannot, or choose not, to drive and those travelers looking for alternatives to congested highways.
In developing its program, the FHSRA established, at a minimum, that the Tampa to Orlando high speed passenger rail system would operate 12 round trips per day, seven days a week, between 6 AM and 8 PM and reach a speed of 120 mph. The trains would accommodate up to 250 passengers with a maximum travel time of 1 hour and 10 minutes between Tampa and Orlando.
The 95-mile (mi.) Florida High Speed Rail (FHSR) project proposed by the FHSRA would be developed on new track, with the great majority of the system located within the existing right-of-way (ROW) of Interstate 4 (I-4), Interstate 75 (I-75), the Florida’s Turnpike Bee Line Expressway (S.R. 528), the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority (OOCEA) Central Florida Greeneway (S.R. 417), and the CSX railroad. Figure S-1 presents the project area, including study Corridors A through E.
In its 2002 Report to the Florida Legislature, the FHSRA found that a traditional design-bid-build approach to the legislative mandate would not meet the aggressive November 2003 construction date or the directive to maximize private/public investment in high speed rail. The FHSRA concluded that the legislative directives could be more reasonably achieved by incorporating the Design, Build, Operate, Maintain, and Finance (DBOM&F) process. The FHSRA solicited proposals for a DBOM&F approach to build a high speed ground transportation system between Tampa and Orlando. The FHSRA found that two proposals were responsive and were to be evaluated as design/build alternatives.