Florida governor kills high-speed rail

US politicians rushed to develop rescue plans for Florida’s high-speed rail corridor after Governor Rick Scott rejected $2.4bn in federal funding for the project two weeks ago. But Scott has rejected all rescue plans.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has decided not to proceed with his state’s high-speed rail project, marking the end of a tense two-week fight over the future of the project and the $2.4 billion in federal funds dedicated to it.

Scott met with Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last Friday to inform him “that Florida will focus on other infrastructure projects”, and not high-speed rail, according to a statement from the Governor’s office.

Two weeks ago, Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal funds designated for the construction of an 84-mile Florida high-speed rail corridor, leaving other Florida politicians scrambling to find ways to recover the project.

Scott claimed that the project would obligate the state to pay subsidies and to cover potential cost overruns of $3 billion. Several Florida cities, including Tampa, Miami and Orlando, tried to assuage those concerns by proposing the creation of an inter-local entity to take charge of the project and transfer risk to the private sector.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica, a Florida Republican, presented a similar rescue plan, though it focused only on salvaging the 21-mile segment between Orlando Airport and the tourist area of Disney World.

Mica and others challenged Scott’s decision to reject the project before private sector operators could bid on it.

“While I am disappointed that a plan to transfer the project to local governments and allow the private sector to at least offer proposals was not possible, I respect Governor Scott’s decision,” Mica said in a statement last Friday.

The Department of Transportation extended a February 25 deadline to give Scott an extra week to consider the rescue plans. Earlier last week, two state senators sued Scott, claiming he was required to continue with the project, but their suit was dismissed last Friday.

Scott had requested the $2.4 billion in federal funds be allocated to other roads and ports projects in Florida, but LaHood indicated the money would be used to fund other states’ high-speed rail programmes.

“I know that states across America are enthusiastic about receiving additional support to help bring America’s high-speed rail network to life,” LaHood said in a statement following his meeting with Scott.

Scott is the third US governor to reject high-speed rail funds. In December, newly elected governors in Wisconsin and Ohio declined a total of $1.2 billion in federal high-speed rail money, undermining President Barack Obama’s high-profile programme to give 80 percent of the country access to high-speed rail within 25 years.

The 2009 stimulus programme committed $8 billion to high-speed rail. The 2010 budget allocated an additional $2 billion for high-speed rail, and Obama requested $53 billion to develop the system over the next six years in his 2012 budget proposal.