Special session proposal would keep Tri-Rail rollingby Dara Kam | December 3rd, 2009
Lawmakers are preparing to start a 10-day session on rail issues that in part could keep Tri-Rail on track.
The 49-page bill legislators will consider includes an extra $13 million to $15 million a year for Tri-Rail that’s been operating at a deficit since its inception two decades ago.
That’s “probably as good as we could get right now,” said Palm Beach County Commissioner Jeff Koons, who is also chairman of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority that oversees Tri-Rail.
That’s a big deal for leaders in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward counties where Tri-Rail runs. Federal officials have threatened to ask the counties to give back more than $200 million if Tri-Rail service is cut back as officials there have threatened.
Tri-Rail is paid for by the state, rider fares and the three counties in which it runs – Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade.
But the commuter line used by 15,000 riders daily has operated in the red by about $15 million every year.
Leaders in the three counties say they don’t have the money to make up the deficit and state lawmakers have refused to grant them the $2 rental car surcharge (also known as a tax) they’ve sought to cover their losses.
Now, state lawmakers are willing to fork over $13 million to $15 million a year to keep Tri-Rail on track to prove to federal lawmakers that Florida is serious about commuter rail. That way, the state will have a better chance at getting some of the $8 billion in stimulus money for high-speed rail projects.
The money will come from gas taxes and other fuel fees and should qualify as a “dedicated funding source” federal officials are seeking, Palm Beach County Commissioner Jeff Koons said.
“I think we ended up in the middle in the sense that we didn’t get our funding source but then a reallocation of those dollars is probably as good as we could get right now,” Koons said.