High-speed rail stops in Lakeland and Polk County under scrutiny

6:57 PM, Nov 9, 2010   |    comments
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Video: Rail stops in Lakeland and Polk County under scrutiny

High speed train maker Siemens brought this mock-up of its Velaro train to Tampa.
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ORLANDO, Florida - It's the billion dollar question the City of Lakeland and Polk County had hoped would have been answered by now.

Where will their future high-speed rail (HSR) station go?

While four other groups presented concepts for their respective HSR stations at a forum at the Orange County Convention Center Tuesday, Lakeland and Polk County had to split up their presentation because they are debating between several sites.

Previous Coverage:
11/9/10 -
Nelson, Iorio plead with Rick Scott to support high-speed rail
10/8/10 - Election Day could derail high-speed trains
8/7/10 - High-speed rail workshop for local businesses
7/19/10 - Work on high-speed rail lines begin along I-4

The future home of USF-Polytechnic had been considered the frontrunner for Polk County's rail stop.  It's located at the Eastern edge of Lakeland, where the Polk Parkway intersects with I-4 at exit 41.

But right now, the site is empty, without any life or commerce for miles.  Many in the county see it as an opportunity to build a brand-new community around the future university.

"It will be mixed-use development," said Tom Patton with the Central Florida Development Council.  "One-, two-, three-, and four-level buildings with residential upstairs (and it will be) a liveable, walkable type of community...a whole different design that what we're used to right now in Polk County."

But City of Lakeland officials recently questioned why a HSR stop would be built so far from the population core of the county's biggest city.  The problem was compounded when a transportation referendum failed in Polk County last week that would have created a county-wide bus system.

"With the referendum not passing, it drives us back to taking a closer look at the other two locations," said Mayor Gow Fields, referencing the potential of moving the Polk County stop 10 miles west to either Clark Rd. and Kathleen Rd.

"Does it make sense for a medium-sized city between Tampa and Orlando to go to an open space or a blank slate, if you will, and build a station there or should it be in the heart of the city?"

The Department of Transportation will make the final decision in December, but Lakeland officials are intent on getting in on the discussions.

In the meantime, the Central Florida Development Council has launched a website for Polk County high-speed rail information.

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Noah Pransky, 10 News

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