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Rail News: High-Speed Rail

Orlando mayor, Mica, AHSRA 'disappointed' over Florida HSR funds


Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) and the American High Speed Rail Alliance (AHSRA) are disappointed that Florida Gov. Rick Scott again turned down $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail grants.

Scott informed U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood this morning that he would not change his February decision to accept the federal dollars that would have gone toward construction of a Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail line. LaHood had given Scott two extensions, which expired today, to reconsider his decision.

The governor's statement was issued moments after the Florida Supreme Court, responding to a lawsuit filed against him over the issue, ruled the governor did not exceed his constitutional authority when he rejected the money.

"Yesterday, the mayors of Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland and Miami reached out to Gov. Scott to make it unmistakably clear that the Orlando to Tampa High Speed Rail project could be built without one dime from Florida taxpayers and absolutely no risk to the state," Dyer said in a prepared statement. "Unfortunately, it appears Gov. Scott has chosen to ignore these facts and has reiterated his decision to reject federal funding for the project as well as Florida’s inclusion in an eventual state and nationwide high speed rail network," he said.

Dyer and the other mayors, in a letter sent to Scott yesterday, outlined an alternative proposal in which an interlocal entity would take over the HSR project in collaboration with the private sector.

The federal funds would cover 90 percent of project costs, and the entity would bid out the rest to private-sector consortiums interested in building and running the HSR line, the mayors said. The private-sector contractor would have been responsible for any project cost overruns, and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) agreed not to require Florida taxpayers to repay the grants if the project was discontinued or failed, the mayors said.

Also voicing disappointment at Scott’s decision was Mica, who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and who is a supporter of "true" high-speed rail.

"While I am disappointed that a plan to transfer the project to local governments and allow the private sector to at least offer proposals was not possible, I respect Gov. Scott’s decision," Mica said in a prepared statement.

Now that Scott has rejected the grants for a third time, AHSRA officials called for the $2.4 billion to be distributed to other states’ HSR proposals.

"While this is a significant loss for the future of high-speed rail in Florida, the alliance believes this is a great opportunity for the U.S. Department of Transportation to redistribute the funds to the dozens of other states that are eager to invest in 21st century infrastructure projects," AHSRA officials said in a prepared statement.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/4/2011