Scott puts brakes on one rail project, feds put another back on trackby Dara Kam | March 11th, 2011
White House officials have opened up a new grant process for the $2.4 billion high-speed rail funds that would have been Florida’s but for Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott rejected the money, saying he feared the Tampa-to-Orlando project would have put taxpayers on the hook for cost overruns and future operational costs although state, federal and local officials repeatedly assured him that would not happen.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today that the $2.4 billion will be available, through a competitive process, “to states eager to develop high-speed rail corridors across the United States.”
That’s good for Florida, according to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who asked LaHood to hold off giving the money to other states to give state, local and federal officials time to work out another way to get the funds without Scott’s approval.
Meanwhile, Scott put the brakes on the $1.2 billion SunRail commuter train in Central Florida by freezing $235 million in contracts for the project.
LaHood’s reopening of the competitive process for the high-speed rail money could breathe new life into Florida’s other transit proposal.
Nelson said it’s possible a new regional transit authority comprised of officials from cities along the future rail route – Tampa, Orlando, Lakeland and Miami – to compete against other states without Scott’s support.
The new rail authority would have to be associated with Amtrak or another established transportation authority, according to Nelson.
“Florida’s chances are alive, thanks to Secretary LaHood,” Nelson said in a statement. “Secretary LaHood said it’s possible for ‘a Florida transit group’ to apply. That means hope is alive for thousands of good-paying jobs and a modernized transportation system.”
LaHood’s taking applications until April 4.
“A merit-driven process will be used to award the newly available high-speed rail dollars to projects that can deliver public and economic benefits quickly. A project’s ability to reduce energy consumption, improve the efficiency of a region’s overall transportation network, and generate sustained economic activity along the corridor are among the selection criteria,” LaHood said in a statement announcing the money is now back on the table.