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All Aboard Florida will prioritize Orlando-Cocoa construction: source

How an All Aboard Florida train depot might look.
How an All Aboard Florida train depot might look. (Handout)

All Aboard Florida will waste no time going to market to sell $1.75 billion of low interest, tax-exempt bonds and will make Orlando a priority as it resumes construction.

Issuing the bonds "will be in the next few days," said a person familiar with the situation.

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And the Cocoa to Orlando connection will be a focus after All Aboard Florida waits roughly 30 days for formal federal approval of an environmental impact statement that was endorsed by the Federal Railroad Administration Tuesday.

The waiting period will not prove a setback to plans for All Aboard Florida to begin running in South Florida by early 2017 and to Orlando by late 2017, people close to the project said but declined to speak on the record.

Once construction begins again, new track will be laid at Cocoa west toward Orlando to make the connection with Orlando International Airport, the northern terminus.

"It's a significant part of the project because it is new construction, all new track," the person close to the matter said.

Orlando International Airport is prepared for the connection. The airport has received $213 million from the state for a new station roughly a mile south of its main terminal. The station would accommodate All Aboard Florida and two other systems, including a proposed SunRail link.

The rest of the project, between Cocoa and Miami, will be a combination of old and new as the endeavor involves laying down track and also using the existing line of All Aboard Florida's sister company, freight carrier Florida East Coast Railway.

The developments underscore a zeal felt by All Aboard Florida, which on Wednesday received authorization by the Florida Development Finance Commission to borrow the $1.75 billion.

"The vote of approval was an important next step in the process, and we're glad to be moving forward with the introduction of passenger rail service from Miami to Orlando," All Aboard Florida president Mike Reininger said in a statement. "We'll continue to work closely with local communities along the rail corridor to create a transformational system that will benefit our economy and quality of life."

Congressman John Mica, R-Winter Park, said the project is a "win-win" for the area and taxpayers. "It's a private sector enterprise and a very viable form of transportation," Mica said.

The 235-mile All Aboard Florida project is also "great for the future of transportation, not just in Orlando," Mica said. "This is one of the biggest projects of its type using private money, and I believe it will be one of the most successful."

The type of bonds All Aboard Florida will issue were authorized by Congress in 2005 for rail and highway projects. They are intended to create incentives for private sector investment in infrastructure.

All Aboard Florida expects to run 32 passenger carriers a day, along with the 14 freight trains that usually use the tracks.

The project has been a protracted one that has generated controversy. Several hundred people attended Wednesday's Florida Development Finance Commission public hearing in downtown Orlando. Many lined up to speak for and against the proposal, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

In all, more than 80 people spoke at the hearing, many going over their allotted three-minute limit, the newspaper reported. A little more than half were in favor of the train, which is supposed to hit a top speed of about 125 mph, the newspaper said.

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Indian River County, which is south of Orlando and north of Palm Beach, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Department of Transportation for its approval of the $1.75 billion of tax exempt bonds for the All Aboard Florida project. The suit calls the bond authorization "plainly unlawful," citing the lack of a final determination of what kind of environmental and historical impacts the project could have.

Proponents say the rail system's goal is to provide an economic boost through ease of use that will attract more businesses, visitors and investors to the area as the railway serves as an alternative to congested roads and crowded airport terminals.

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