Florida Says No to High-Speed Rail

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott has rejected $2.4 billion in federal funds to build an 84-mile high-speed rail system from Tampa to Orlando, saying the rail project likely wouldn’t pay for itself.

Scott is the third conservative Republican governor to turn down high-speed rail funding, following Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

California has received some of the money rejected by other state for use on its planned $43 billion Anaheim to San Francisco line and the Los Angeles Times reported that state leaders are seeking the Florida funds.

From the Times Story:

“The $2 billion that Florida rejected are more than welcome here,” California Gov. Jerry Brown said.

California. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, wrote to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood asking that all the Florida money be sent here. “It is now clear that California will lead the way in demonstrating the viability of high-speed rail to the rest of the country,” they wrote.

In his letter this week to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Scott cited some of the same issues that critics of the California system have raised, including uncertainty about winning financial support from private investors, iffy ridership estimates and long-term job creation as opposed to short-term construction work.

The project “would likely not pay for itself,” Scott said in his letter to LaHood.

More from the letter:

…given that actual ridership will not be known until well after the capital investment is made, the potential for significant capital and operating cost overruns and the nominal difference in travel times between the cities, it is likely that even with financial guarantees from a private sector builder/operator, moving forward with such a project would likely lead to a financial obligation by the state of Florida in the future.

Moreover, there is no indication this investment will provide any meaningful job creation beyond the construction phase, nor will it result in sustainable economic growth opportunities. Put simply, the proposed high-speed rail line is far too uncertain and offers far too little long term benefit for me to consider moving forward and ultimately putting taxpayers at risk during an already challenging fiscal climate.

The Palm Beach Post reported that Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he spoke with Lahood Wednesday afternoon about financing the Tampa-Orlando rail project without the state government’s participation.

Pres. Barack Obama’s administration recently announced a plan to spend $53 billion over the next six years on development of high-speed rail lines in various parts of the nation.

Republicans in Congress oppose the rail projects. In California, criticism has come from members of both parties who raised concerns about the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority’s lack of a basic business plan, faulty ridership estimates and a series of state audits showing, among other things, that millions in bills were paid by the project’s main contractor, Parson Brinckerhoff, without invoices from the contractors.

In addition, the state attorney general’s office last year determined two board members, including chairman Curt Pringle, the former mayor of Anaheim, had conflicts of interest between local positions they held and their statewide rail duties.

— TRACY WOOD

 

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