Friday, March 4, 2011

Florida High Speed Rail Funding Withdrawn

It looks like high speed rail in Florida is dead for the time being

About $2.4 billion in federal funds for a high-speed rail project in Florida will go elsewhere after the state's Republican governor rejected the deal out of hand, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on Friday.

LaHood said the Obama administration was pulling the plug on the financing after speaking with Rick Scott, Florida's Tea Party-backed governor, Friday morning in a last-ditch attempt to win his approval.

The money, which many Floridians hoped would bring thousands of jobs to a state burdened with record-high unemployment, would now be spent in other parts of the country, LaHood said.

"I know that states across America are enthusiastic about receiving additional support to help bring America's high-speed rail network to life and deliver all its economic benefits to their citizens," LaHood said in a statement.

Under LaHood's offer, Washington would have paid for all but $300 million of the $2.7 billion high-speed line. The project was originally approved in late 2009 by former Governor Charlie Crist and by state lawmakers, who set aside funds to finance the state's share.

Scott rejected LaHood's offer at least three times, saying the state could not afford it and, if the line were built, taxpayers would be responsible for operating losses. The Tampa-Orlando line would be the first phase of a longer line to Miami at a cost of billions more.

"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," Scott had written in a Feb. 16 letter to LaHood.

All hope is not lost however. Given the bipartisan backlash against the rejection of the rail funds, it is almost certain that it will be a major issue during the next election and will probably serve as an important element of his downfall. While the program will now be delayed by a few years, there is nothing inherently preventing it from being funded again in the near future, and in the meantime, the money will most likely turn into valuable upgrades on the Northeast Corridor and in extending the California high speed rail system.

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