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It’s official — again. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is holding his ground on rejecting $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail funds for the Tampa-Orlando corridor over concerns that cost overruns would have to be covered by taxpayers. Yesterday, he turned down a proposal presented earlier this week by a group of central Florida cities to create an independent regional agency to oversee the project, enabling those cities to accept federal funds rather than the state. Scott has not yet released a formal statement, but the Florida Rail Enterprise website is no longer active and comments issued to HSRupdates.com have indirectly confirmed his decision. “The U.S. Department of Transportation has addressed every legitimate concern Gov. Scott has raised with respect to plans to connect Florida through high-speed rail,” said U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) spokesperson Olivia Alair in an email. “We have repeatedly and clearly told Gov. Scott and his staff that Florida would not bear financial or legal liabilities for the project, and that there is strong private-sector interest in taking on the risk associated with building and operating high-speed rail in the state.” Alair did not address questions about when or how the USDOT might redistribute Florida’s funds. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) says she’s “devastated” that Florida will lose thousands of jobs to other states. “The governor's decision sends a terrible message to businesses that are looking at Florida for investment and hiring opportunities,” she said in a statement. “The plan we presented the governor, which he reportedly rejected, met every test he mentioned and would have been a viable way to make high-speed rail and associated jobs a reality in Florida." Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he understands Scott’s concerns about the project. Last week, Mica proposed a plan to build a 21-mile segment of the 95-mile corridor between Orlando International Airport, the Orange County Convention Center and Disney World. Under his proposal, Orange and Osceola counties, as well as the city of Orlando, would serve as sub-grantees and craft an inter-local agreement. The federal government would provide funding to construct the segment, then the inter-local parties would solicit private-sector proposals to finance, design, construct, operate and maintain the corridor. “I have done all that I can to salvage the project to this point and present what I consider to be a viable alternative plan that places the risk with the private sector and protects the taxpayers,” Mica said in a statement issued yesterday. “While the governor’s action will terminate the project at this time, it is my intention to work to salvage millions of dollars already expended and years of study on the critically important link from the Orlando airport to our tourist area. “I intend to reassess the project and work with local partners to continue seeking a federal and local solution in building this infrastructure project.”
— Angela Cotey