As Brightline works to extend its South Florida train system through Orlando and into Tampa, a leader with the private rail company gave a progress report during a local transportation meeting Thursday.
Yes — the plan is for the high-speed train to eventually pass through Polk County, which would allow residents to get to neighboring metropolitan areas without relying on I-4. But it's so far from reality that little is known at this point about Polk's section of track, where stations would go within the county, and when those stations could open.
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A Polk County station "has always been a part of the vision," Christine Kefauver, Brightline's senior vice president of corporate development, told elected county and city leaders with Polk's Transportation Planning Organization. "It's just a matter of when that happens."
Brightline began operations in 2018 and currently takes passengers between West Palm Beach and Miami with a stop in Fort Lauderdale.
It has ambitious goals.
The company is in the midst of expanding its track from Palm Beach to the Orlando International Airport, but this section isn't expected to be operating until sometime in 2023, Kefauver said.
While construction is underway to Orlando, Brightline is pursuing $38 million in federal grant money to help fund its next extension phase from there into Tampa.
The Polk County Commission, in November, voted to send a letter in support of this funding to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Brightline has yet to complete the permitting or design work necessary for the portion of track into Tampa, Kefauver said.
"Design and permitting is where the greatest degree of challenge is," she told a room full of elected city and county officials.
Once that work is done, and once the funding is secured, "construction is a three-year process," she added.
There was little discussion following Kefauver's presentation.
Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey expressed excitement for the project.
"There will ultimately be a station in Polk County somewhere," he said. "And wherever that is, it will benefit all of Polk County. I'm confident that we will rise to the occasion and wherever it is all of the jurisdictions will work with you to accommodate that and avoid any impediments."
Kefauver said that a goal of Brightline is to help people get places where it's too far to drive, but too close to fly.
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If the rail line ultimately stretches more than 200 miles from Miami-Dade County to Hillsborough County, it will run through five of the most densely populated counties in Florida - able to serve 40 percent of the state's population, she added.
"It’s an exciting time for all of us," Kefauver said. "It's the right solution at the right time and a lot of people feel like we can’t get there fast enough."
A South Carolina native, Dustin covers Polk County government and county-wide issues. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @LLDustin_Wyatt.
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Brightline officials give update on plan to expand Florida rail service