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Rail News: High-Speed Rail

Florida mayors to Gov. Scott: We've addressed your concerns


Today, the mayors of Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland and Miami sent a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott they say addresses all of his stated concerns about accepting $2.4 billion in federal grants to build a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando.

Two weeks ago, Scott announced he would reject the $2.4 billion over a concern that it would be a financial risk to Florida taxpayers if the project's construction or future operation costs ran over budget. He also said he was concerned that the state would have to repay the federal funds if the HSR project were discontinued.
In a press conference earlier today, the mayors announced they have agreed to form a "non-recourse" entity to be the "sub-recipient" of the federal grant funds and construct the HSR system. The entity, which would be financially independent from the state of Florida and the cities that created it, would transfer all construction and operation of the HSR system to a private entity, which would assume the risk of any cost overruns of the project.

According to the letter sent to Scott, the mayors said they envision the interlocal entity "could be the vehicle for construction of a statewide high-speed rail system that will, in time, connect to an interstate high-speed rail system. Tampa to Orlando is only the first leg. The Orlando-to-Miami corridor will be the critical second leg of the statewide system."

In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation has "unambiguously waived" its standard requirement that the state would be obligated to repay the federal funds if the HSR project is discontinued, the mayors said.

"This standard condition was included in the initial draft of the cooperative agreement for the state of Florida, but in a letter dated Feb. 28, 2011, USDOT committed to waive this condition for the state and the cities in any future cooperative agreements for the Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail line," the mayors wrote.

The mayors' letter also said that "under the structure and terms we have proposed and the USDOT has approved, any remaining risks are limited in the way you requested."

"If there is one point I would like to get across to Floridians concerned about this issue, there is absolutely no risk to the Florida taxpayer in moving forward with the high-speed rail project," Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said during at the press conference. "If the governor continues to maintain that there is risk to the Florida taxpayer, it (his statement) is inaccurate."

Also attending the press conference held outside the Lakeland City Hall were representatives of business groups and chambers of commerce from the Orlando, Tampa and Miami regions that support moving forward with the HSR project. Two business community members reiterated the mayors' point that the HSR project is vital to the economic development and future growth of the region’s communities and the entire state.

The mayors also said their proposal would be independent of a lawsuit filed earlier this week by two Florida state lawmakers against Scott over his decision to reject the federal HSR funds. The Florida Supreme Court was scheduled to hold a hearing in that case at 3 p.m. today.

— Julie Sneider

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/3/2011