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Rail News: High-Speed Rail

Tampa city attorney: Florida cities, counties could create independent agency to oversee HSR project


Florida officials are scrambling to come up with options to advance construction on the Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail project despite Gov. Rick Scott’s announcement last week that he’s rejecting federal dollars for the corridor. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has given stakeholders until this Thursday to present their options.

One option: creating an independent regional agency to construct the proposed line. Under Florida law, a regional agency can be created by an interlocal agreement, and Florida cities and counties have “broad authority to establish independent interlocal agencies that can operate inside and outside the boundaries of the local governments establishing the independent regional agency,” according to a letter Tampa City Attorney Chip Fletcher sent to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) on Feb. 18.

Nelson and Castor have voiced their opposition to Scott’s rejection of the funds. Castor is “working very hard to do everything she can to save jobs and high-speed rail in our state,” says her spokeswoman, Ellen Gedalius.

There are a range of options for establishing an independent interlocal agency, according to Fletcher’s letter: Constituent members could include cities, counties, other political subdivisions and other local agencies, including regional transportation or transit agencies; constituent members could be cities, counties and other political subdivisions; or constituent members could be metropolitan planning organizations, cities, counties other political subdivisions.

“I and other local government lawyers I have consulted with are confident that no Florida statute preempts an independent interlocal agency from building the proposed Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail line,” Fletcher wrote. “The statue does not prohibit a private entity from operating high-speed rail, and it does not prohibit a local government from privatizing or consigning the operation of the high-speed rail line to a private entity.  The legislature did not expressly prohibit local governments from authorizing a private vendor to operate the high-speed rail line that the legislature specifically authorized local governments to construct.”

In order to advance the project using a private vendor, the independent agency would need to use a design, build, finance, operate, maintain procurement model. That way, the successful vendor could be required to accept all risks pertaining to the project, including capital cost overruns, operating shortfalls and any risk of failure to comply with the grant requirements, according to Fletcher’s letter.

How would the state sub-grant the U.S. Department of Transportation’s high-speed rail grant to the independent regional agency? The Florida DOT could contract with the independent regional agency to assign the grant, or the Florida legislature could assign the grant to the independent agency, Fletcher said.

Angela Cotey

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 2/22/2011