Bonds

Brightline train’s proposed extension to Tampa won a vote of confidence Friday from a coalition of planning and transportation organizations, two months after the sale of $925 million of high-yield municipal bonds to finance the planned extension.

The Suncoast Transportation Planning Alliance and Central Florida Metropolitan Planning Organization Alliance, which together represent 10 metropolitan planning organizations and state transportation officials along the Interstate-4 corridor, unanimously approved a resolution that calls on the state “and other interested parties” to work together to expand to transit and rail options along I-4.

“The issues of traffic congestion, travel time reliability, safety, and jobs access are at a critical breaking point in the I-4 Corridor,” the resolution said, singling out passenger systems Brightline and Amtrak for expanded service. “Passenger rail options should include higher speed Brightline rail service linking Tampa Bay to the Orlando Metro area, the Space Coast and Southeast Florida, along with more frequent and new Amtrak service between Tampa Bay and metro Orlando, and other parts of the United States to satisfy the ever-growing travel demand between and through our regions,” the resolution said.

A coalition of planning organizations along Florida’s congested I-4 corridor approved a resolution supporting Brightline’s proposed expansion to Tampa from Orlando.

Brightline

Backed by the Fortress Investment Group, Brightline Trains Florida LLC owns and operates a $6 billion, 235-mile train system from Miami to Orlando, dotted with stations in between. When it opened in 2018 it marked the country’s first private passenger system in more than a century. The extension to Orlando International Airport opened last September.

Brightline came to market in late April with more than $3.1 billion in a large refinancing that featured its first investment-grade ratings. The transaction included the $925 million of unrated tax-exempt bonds that will finance the Tampa extension if it goes forward. The high-yield bonds, considered the riskiest in the debt stack, feature a mandatory tender date of July 2028.

The unrated debt was sold through a newly created subsidiary called Brightline Tampa. The current plan, as outlined in an April 25 official statement, calls for Brightline Tampa to work with the local business community to develop the portion that would consist of all stops west of the Orlando International Airport. There are currently two intermediate stops planned, serving the Orange County Convention Center and the major theme parts in Central Florida, and an additional planned stop in the Tampa area, the statement said.

The proposal calls for Brightline Tampa to develop the project to the point where it has received final National Environmental Policy Act permitting and achieved at least 60% design. Once this has been achieved, Brightline Trains Florida LLC will have the option to repurchase the Orlando-Tampa project for $500 million, the documents said.

Despite the regional show of support for the expansion, the state’s latest budget did not include a request from local lawmakers for $50 million for the expansion. During an April press conference, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said it’s a “privately funded” project. “I mean, we are not going to be on the hook as the state with taxpayers for doing trains,” DeSantis was quoted as saying in local reports.

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