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TALLAHASSEE, FL-Politically-scarred from the presidential ballot debacle, Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of President-elect George W. Bush, faces a second thorny issue: a proposal to build a 200-mile, high-speed railway system that could wind up costing taxpayers $10 billion. The governor killed funding for a similar proposal last year.

This time, however, Lakeland, FL millionaire C.C. Dockery, the bullet train’s current banner-carrier, is using the Florida Constitution to press for the project. He argues the governor has no choice but to obey the results of a Nov. 7 constitutional amendment ballot approved by 2.9 million voters that urged the state to build a bullet train network. Anti-rail activists and numerous legislators, however, reply that most voters didn’t know what they were really voting on, not unlike the south Florida presidential ballot chad fiasco.

Commercial real estate developers, meanwhile, are undecided how much new product the train project would trigger around stations. Unanswered is how much passenger traffic the venture would attract to make it worthwhile for developers/investors to begin new enterprises.

Dockery, a former chairman of the state’s High Speed Rail Commission, knows his way around the political corridors in Florida’s capital, 250 miles north of Downtown Orlando. He is asking Bush to create the Florida High Speed Rail Authority to get the train project going.

Dockery’s proposal formally goes to the Legislature in March. He wants lawmakers to use the $70 million a year budgeted originally in 1998 to start the railway’s construction. Dockery maintains passenger fare revenue will be enough to pay for the construction debt. Opponents discount that argument, contending there will be a dearth of passengers and the state and taxpayers will wind up paying an astronomical subsidy of about $200 per passenger.

The proposed train’s initial leg would be between Orlando and Tampa, an 80-mile hop, with a midway stop in Lakeland, Dockery’s home town, 60 miles south of Downtown Orlando. Future rail phases would take in the Port Canaveral/Cocoa region, Fort Pierce, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Fort Myers/Naples, Bradenton/Sarasota, Daytona Beach, St. Augustine/Jacksonville, Ocala, Gainesville, Tallahassee and Pensacola.

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