A Presidential Rail Visit?

High-speed rail rally
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, left, and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor speak at a high-speed rail rally two weeks ago at Tampa Union Station
TAMPA (2010-1-25) -

President Obama is coming to Tampa Thursday, and several public officials are speculating that he'll announce a funding package for the state's first high-speed rail line. One of the project's biggest backers says that's what she's hearing, too, while teaching a new class on mass transit.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will speak Thursday afternoon at the Bob Martinez Sports Center on the University of Tampa campus. Rumors abound that the president will announce federal stimulus funding for the proposed Central Florida high speed rail project.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who is one of the region's biggest backers of mass transit, agrees.

"You don't know until the president actually arrives," she says. "But I have heard from some individuals who are closer to the situation than I am that we are going to be the recipient of the monies for high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando."

There are more than 100 applications for the estimated $8 billion the administration has set aside for mass transit. The Central Florida line would run in the median of Interstate 4, and construction is expected to cost $2.5 billion.

Tampa's mayor spoke after teaching her first class at USF's Honors College. She now has a new title: Professor Iorio.

It's on a topic she should know something about: "The Future of Mass Transit in Hillsborough County and the Region." Iorio has been instrumental in pushing for a referendum this fall that would allocate another penny sales tax to be used for mass transit.

"As I said to the students, this is not about whether you're for or against the referendum," she said. "You draw your own conclusions. This is about you becoming knowledgeable about this issue because ultimately, the issue of transit belongs to you. You are young enough by the time we build this thing and build it out, it belongs to your generation."

Mayor Iorio is following in the footsteps of her father, who taught at USF decades ago.

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