Obama administration gives Florida an extra week to devise alternate high-speed rail planby George Bennett | February 17th, 2011
WASHINGTON — U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has given Florida an extra week to figure out a way to draw $2.4 billion in federal money for high-speed rail after Gov. Rick Scott rejected the grant Wednesday.
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who met with LaHood and five Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation this afternoon, said he hopes Amtrak or a local planning or transit authority would step in to assume the risk of cost overruns after Scott said those risks were too great for state taxpayers. Private business could also be part of the mix, Nelson said.
Scott would still have to sign off on such an arrangement, Nelson said.
The deadline for Florida to accept the federal money was Friday, but Nelson said LaHood extended the date to Feb. 25. LaHood didn’t talk to reporters after the meeting in Nelson’s office.
The federal money would pay an estimated 90 percent of the cost of a rail line from Tampa to Orlando. Long-term plans call for an Orlando-to-Miami link as well.
“Our enemy at this point is time,” Nelson told reporters.
“We cannot allow this money to come back to Washington to go to another state. We would be the laughingstock of the nation,” said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami.“There is too much at stake in connection with high-speed rail for us to let this fail,” said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton.
“We’ve worked too hard to come up with an approach to help shape Florida’s future that is bipartisan, that tells the business community around the country and around the world that Florida’s a place to come and to invest. It is in the best interests of our state. We can create jobs now,” Deutch said.
Nelson and all the representatives in the meeting with LaHood were Democrats, but House Transportation Chairman John Mica, R-Winter Park, showed up afterward and voiced support for trying to rescue the federal grant. Mica said other Republicans are on board as well.
“The cart’s in the ditch right now and we’re trying to figure out a way if we could all pull it out together,” Mica said. Mica said he was “taken aback” by Scott’s decision to reject the federal money. He said the governor didn’t give him or other rail supporters enough time to explore alternatives, such as private sector participation.
Mica also took issue with Scott’s suggestion the project won’t meet ridership goals.
“If I didn’t believe it was cost-effective at this point, I wouldn’t be here,” Mica said.
Tags: High-speed rail