Dr. Strange Train

Or: How I learned to start worrying and hate the bullet train

The other option to get the amendment on the ballot would be for state legislators to put it there. That seems unlikely. During the 2002 legislative session, Klein thought he had the support for a new referendum. But his bill died in the transportation committee without a hearing. And when he appealed to Governor Bush, who nixed the FOX train in 1999, he didn't get much help. Klein says that Bush has told him privately he still opposes the project. If the governor is in office after the November election, which is likely, Klein expects him to come out more strongly against the train. Bush said in his January letter to the Sun-Sentinel that he wants private companies to estimate costs and declare how much they would invest. If it looks like the system will "drain state coffers," Bush wrote, Florida voters should be asked to repeal the constitutional amendment.

The legislature is divided on high-speed rail, Book says. A great many lawmakers are reluctant to backpedal on something voters approved. The fence-sitters wonder about the feasibility of the system but are willing to wait for more detailed financial information and more complete ridership studies. Book predicts that at least the Orlando-to-Tampa section will be built. "I expected the bullet train to die a very quick death after [the referendum] passed," he says. "I was wrong. I think the more time that goes on and the more money that gets spent, the more the bullet train becomes an institutionalized idea. More people buy in, and more people get invested. They think, it is going to happen, so you better jump on board, because if you wait, everybody else will have the work."

This session, in fact, the legislature passed a bill expanding the powers of the FHSRA, giving it the ability to acquire right of way and negotiate on impact fees and providing a budget of $5.4 million to complete a ridership and other studies. Additionally, FHSRA garnered $3 million from the federal government. The money was secured by long-time bullet-train proponent Sen. Bob Graham.

Right now, DEBT doesn't have a lot of weapons in its arsenal. Goodstein says his group will press on for the needed signatures. If it misses the July 15 deadline, DEBT will try to have the needed signatures by the time the legislature meets next year. "It would be an important notice to the state legislature not to go spending a great deal of money on this," Goodstein says, "because you may find out when it is on the ballot in 2004 that the people don't want it."Back at the meeting, Winikoff hasn't given up trying to mobilize the opposition now. Addressing the leaders of the 110 community associations that make up the West Boca Community Council, he implores: "We need you to take those petitions to your communities. If you get out and roll up your sleeves, we can beat this thing." Meanwhile, Goodstein and Aaronson take turns ringing the warning bell: "I'm here to ask you to be leaders in the Herculean task that lays ahead," Aaronson says, "to put an initiative on the ballot to repeal the bullet train, which will be a disaster for the State of Florida and which will be a disaster for Palm Beach County and for all of you sitting here. We can't go much lower than 50th in education.

"If there was ever something you would call a no-brainer, this is it. You don't have to be a mental giant to see it."

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