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Election 2004

Bullet train's backers roll out own ad drive

The "Don't side-track Florida's future" ads on delivery trucks aim to counter a well-financed repeal effort.

By LAUREN BAYNE ANDERSON
Published October 12, 2004

Proponents of the high-speed bullet train unveiled a $70,000 advertising campaign Monday, urging voters to defeat an amendment aimed at derailing development of the train.

The Rail Truth will plaster its message on 35 delivery trucks around the Tampa Bay area.

"We're taking our message directly to voters who need high-speed rail the most: folks stuck in gridlocked traffic," said Ken Walton, the group's executive director.

"Vote no on Amendment 6," the ads read. "Don't side-track Florida's future."

In 2000, voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution mandating the development of a high-speed train linking the state's five major urban areas: Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

Amendment 6 on the Nov. 2 ballot would repeal the 2000 amendment.

Supporters of Amendment 6 who oppose the train say they will soon unveil their own media campaign, saying the total cost - an estimated $25-billion - places an unreasonable burden on taxpayers, who did not understand the full cost of the rail project when they voted in 2000.

"We believe voters deserve a second chance, armed with all the facts," said Sarah Bascome, a spokeswoman for the Derail the Bullet Train campaign.

The group, formed by Gov. Jeb Bush and Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, has raised $2.2-million. The Rail Truth has collected $135,000.

The official cost of developing the first phase of the train, between Tampa and Orlando, is projected at $2.6-billion, though opponents put the cost closer to $6.4-billion.

But Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, said, mile for mile, the rail would be $3.5-million cheaper than expanding Interstate 4 from Tampa to Orlando. The cost also is less than 1.5 percent of the state's annual transportation budget, money already earmarked for mass transportation projects like the train, she said.

Bascome said 1.5 percent is still too much and the train will serve tourists rather than residents. "It's almost $25-billion, paid by taxpayers, a majority of which won't ride the train," she said.

Among Derail's highest contributors are road builders and Orlando area theme parks that lost a rail station bid to Disney.

The Rail Truth has the backing of environmental groups and Sen. Dockery's husband, C.C. "Doc" Dockery, a Lakeland millionaire, who spent nearly $3-million in support of the high-speed rail amendment in 2000. Dockery's $75,000 donation remains the group's largest contribution.

"We've got a bunch of greedy road builders and developers who have donated - it's a self interest thing," Dockery said. "I am hopeful the voters will see through the pack of lies (Derail the Bullet Train) is getting ready to dump on the citizens of this state."

While train backers are at a financial disadvantage, a Mason-Dixon poll released Friday shows 45 percent of voters support the rail, as opposed to 39 percent that do not.

Bascome said there is still room for undecided voters to come around, but Dockery disagrees.

"Gallagher is saying to voters, "Hey stupid, you didn't know what you were doing,' " Dockery said. "Well, the voters are not stupid and they'll reject any implication that they didn't know what they were doing."

Times staff writer Graham Brink contributed to this report.

[Last modified October 11, 2004, 23:37:13]


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