More train hi-jinks: Scott puts brakes on SunRailby Dara Kam | March 11th, 2011
Gov. Rick Scott has put the brakes on the $1.2 billion SunRail commuter train in Central Florida by freezing $235 million in contracts for the project until July while he decides whether to allow it to go forward.
Could give him some the upper hand with powerful GOP lawmakers who support the project, including Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, as they craft their budget? It’s due before the legislative session ends on May 6.
Nope, Alexander said.
“Unless he had my children in handcuffs I don’t think he can get leverage on me,” Alexander said after learning of Scott’s maneuver.
Read The Orlando Sentinel’s Aaron Deslatte‘s blog about Scott and SunRail after the jump.
Gov. Rick Scott is delaying a final decision about whether to let the $1.2 billion SunRail commuter train in Central Florida move forward until mid-summer, long after the 60-day legislative session ends.
The governor has kept $235 million in contracts for rail cars, an engine and construction for the 61-mile line on hold since January, saying he was reviewing whether to allow the project to go forward.
But because there is some federal transit cash involved in the deal, Scott’s office faced a March deadline to allow them to move forward or be scrapped.
Scott on Friday directed the Florida Department of Transportation to sign the contracts with added language that would lock in the prices but allow the governor to delay making a final decision on the project until July, officials said.
“Today, I asked the Florida DOT to lock in prices that would be associated with constructing the SunRail system in Central Florida,” Scott said in a statement.
“This action gives me time to review the costs and public concerns about this project. During the months ahead, I’ll complete a review of the financial impact this project could have on Florida’s taxpayers.”
Scott broke the news on his Facebook page, and invited people to comment to his office.
The move gives Scott a powerful amount of leverage over Florida legislative leaders supportive of SunRail — including House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.
The contracts cover $39 million to be spent on cab cars, $17 million for diesel locomotives and $168 million owed to Archer Western for design and construction of the rail line slated to link downtown Orlando with Seminole, Volusia and Osceola counties.
The contracts are considered “critical” by the state Department of Transportation, which is charged with getting the $1.2 billion project up and running.
SunRail supporters had hoped to begin construction by spring, but that date will be delayed until at least mid-summer by the move.
The move appeared to blindside some lawmakers. “These matters have been negotiated and executed,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, a SunRail supporter trying to choose his words carefully. “And the time is now to move forward for the benefit of Central Florida.”
Scott’s decision comes just a week after he delivered the final blow to Florida’s $2.7 billion high-speed rail line planned to connect Orlando and Tampa.