Fla. Bullet Train Likely at End of the Line

By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida
By: Keith Laing, The News Service of Florida


Though he has expressed dismay that Gov. Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal money for high speed rail in Florida without consulting him, the chairman of Senate Transportation Committee said Tuesday he thinks the governor’s “No” may be the last stop for the long-sought train connecting Tampa and Orlando.

Sen. Jack Latvala said there likely would not be a legislative solution to accepting the money without Scott’s approval, even though he still supports the proposed 168 mile-per-hour train and signed a letter to U.S. transportation officials last week asking for more time to work around Scott’s objection.

What would have been a bipartisan group of 26 Florida senators wrote to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood suggesting the Passenger Rail Commission and Rail Enterprise could accept the cash, though one of those lawmakers later rescinded his signature. But even after hearing a presentation from the rail commission Tuesday, Latvala said “the only live prospect out there” was local governments partnering to accept the money.

“I don’t think it’ll come to the state,” Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, told the News Service of Florida. “It might be some kind of agreement that waives liability from the state.”

But even that possibility might not see the light at the end of the tunnel, Latvala added, saying “I’m not optimistic.”

Florida was given a week to create a plan to accept the money before its rail money is given away to other states. California and New York have already expressed interest in receiving the $2.4 billion if Florida does not want it.

Perhaps coloring Latvala’s pessimism, Scott has continued to stand firm in his opposition to accepting the cash. Scott told reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday that South Florida’s Tri-Rail showed him that rail supporters like Latvala would not be able to produce a plan that did not involve the state taking a financial risk.

“If you look at ridership studies, there’s no way in the world we’re not going to have operational losses,” Scott said before mentioning the existing commuter rail in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. “Tri-rail has almost $65 million in operating cost. The fares only cover $10 million of it….so each of you as taxpayers, you help subsidize it to the tune of $35 million a year.

“If you look at the risk of cost overruns (and) ridership studies, if we make a mistake and we’re wrong, we have to give $2.4 billion back to the federal government, it’s not worth the risk,” Scott continued. “I want to focus on ports, highways and logistics. That’s what going to change and create private sector jobs.”

Still, Florida Assistant Transportation Secretary for Engineering and Operations Kevin Thibault said Tuesday that the department was going to complete a pair of ridership studies that Scott previously said the he was interested in – but hasn’t seen yet because they’re not finished.

“Obviously we’re working with our federal partners as well because they’ve paid for funding the studies,” said Thibault, who runs the Florida Rail Enterprise.

Thibault said the DOT or the Rail Enterprise wouldn’t comment on any of the possible work-arounds being floated, even though one of them involves the enterprise itself.

“We haven’t been involved in it at all,” Thibault said of proposals that have been floated to get the federal money to Florida without the governor’s OK.

Meanwhile, the senator who backtracked on his opposition to Scott’s decision said Tuesday that signed and then unsigned a letter seeking to undercut Scott on purpose.

The purpose was to let Scott know that he needed to work with the Legislature on rail plans involving state money, like the proposed SunRail commuter train in Orlando.

“I think the letter explained it about as well as it could be explained,” said Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker. “Here the governor is saying that he’s wanting to give back the money to the feds. Well, I didn’t have a problem with that up until the point that he’s wanting us to spend more state money on SunRail. I took issue with that, so in my way, I was sending a message to the governor.”

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  • by nOLE Location: TALLY on Feb 28, 2011 at 08:45 AM
    Jim remember all you just said next year and next. I'm sure the crook will have all of you money and mine and all the rest of the states by that time if not before.hahahahaha
  • by Jim on Feb 27, 2011 at 11:23 AM
    Re: nOLE Certainly am proud of voting for someone who does what he said he would do, not change positions all the time as was the case for the previous person I voted for as Governor. We won't see Governor Scott out there pushing the green movement and hugging Barry. Governor Scott used a lot of his own money and is only taking one dollar a year salary. By the way, when you scrape the dog poop off your shoe, think about the real cause of the destruction of our economy here in Florida and the rest of this once great republic, i.e., BHO and the most corrupt administration ever.
  • by nOLE on Feb 27, 2011 at 10:19 AM
    Will Jim so you voted for the crook. That is something to be proud of. So, jobs are be cut. Unemployement is also going to be. State office already under staff is going to be more. I hate to tell You this but also the way things are going there more jobs will be out. The train would have given JOBS to alot of people. The northerns going down south would have a better way to do this.Look at the lost money from that not being used. I for one did not vote for him cause he is a big fat cat who is looking out for who? SCOTT THATS WHO! I sure don't want him to even come in my yard to clean up my dog poop. I can't wait till he's GONE. Unfortually the damages will be done. I guess you'll be alright cause it seems like you just might be one of his fellow crooks also. I'm not whining just telling it like it is.
  • by Jim on Feb 24, 2011 at 05:13 PM
    Dale, The reason you don't know people who voted for our Governor is that you are in Leon County, which is a far left democrat party blotch on an otherwise Republican state. Leon County votes with the lefties in South Florida. The majority of us voted for Governor Scott so quit your whining. It is nice to have someone who doesn't try Chuckie's approach of running as a conservative and governing as a greenie lefty loon.
  • by dale Location: tallahassee on Feb 24, 2011 at 10:11 AM
    i didnt vote for scott and no one that i know did but somehow he got elected. what a tragedy.
  • by Jim on Feb 23, 2011 at 07:27 PM
    That free federal money isn't really there. The federal government is $14 Trillion in debt. Governor Scott is right to put an end to this boondoggle. Charlie got his hug session with BHO, but, thankfully was not able to steal the Senate seat. Senator Rubio also agrees with this decision not to go along with the train. Unfortunately, space cadet Billy Nelson is still pushing this crazy train.
  • by uneployed Location: fl on Feb 23, 2011 at 03:23 PM
    the only one's for this is the one's profiting from it.
  • by Darlene Location: CA on Feb 23, 2011 at 02:52 PM
    Looks like FLA will be taking "the bullet" for a backward GOP decision. Gops said No this time to funding for mass transit additions-Bullet train that would help locals and bring tourists Oil May Surge to $220 If Libya, Algeria Halt, Nomura Says. Looks like the joke is on the people of FLA.
  • by Civicduty on Feb 23, 2011 at 12:29 PM
    Thank you for not making us pay for something we will not use.
  • by Peejer on Feb 23, 2011 at 12:10 PM
    So let me get this straight... I board a train in Tampa and travel to Orlando where I have to rent a car anyway to get around town. How ridiculous.. Trains only work in dense older cities with an existing public transit structure like New York, Boston, etc.
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