Friday, March 04, 2011

Deadline Day For Florida's High Speed Rail Project

Today's the deadline day to get Florida's high speed rail (HSR) project back on track. Backers of the project say that any cost overruns would be borne by the private sector, eliminating the key concern for GOP Gov. Rick Scott, who also claims that the money would be better used upgrading ports to handle larger ships once the Panama Canal upgrade is completed:
"We have addressed all of the governor's concerns," said Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. "We have structured this so that if there were cost overruns the private sector would take care if it."

Iorio, along with the mayors of Orlando, Lakeland and Miami, signed an agreement that calls for local authorities to take over the project with the help of the private sector. They presented their plan to Scott Wednesday.

"If there are operational short falls -- private sector. This is a true public-private partnership," Iorio said. "This is what governors all across the country want and we had structured this in such a way that there would not be risk to the Florida taxpayers."

Scott's office did not respond to CNN's request for a comment on the agreement.

Scott has said that he believes there would be a greater long-term benefit to the state if the money were used for other infrastructure projects.

"I want the money for our ports," he said, noting the expansion project now underway at the Panama Canal and the growth of economies in Central and South America. "Put that money into the Florida ports. That's where we want that money spent."

But LaHood said the funds were specifically allocated for high-speed rail and can't be switched to other projects.

Proponents of high-speed rail believe Florida is the ideal location for an inter-city system. The Tampa to Orlando project would be the first leg in a line that advocates hope to extend to Miami and eventually Jacksonville in the north of the state.
If that's the case, then let this project go ahead and see if Florida can get HSR up and running. It would be a tremendous test case to see if the country can get anything approaching HSR.

Meanwhile, funding to get key improvements on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor (NEC) are still lagging - particularly the Portal Bridge project that should be separate from all the discussions about the Gateway Tunnel/ARC project.

The Portal Bridge is a project everyone agrees upon, yet no one in the NJ delegation seems to be able to secure funding - and that includes Sen. Frank Lautenberg whose name adorns the Secaucus Transfer for all of his support of mass transit. Time for him to put up and shut about about his ongoing feuds with Gov. Chris Christie and secure the funding for this project that has been on the drawing boards for years and which all the relevant parties - from Amtrak to NJ Transit to the state and federal authorities - recognize as critical to improving the on-time performance of the NEC and increasing speed on the corridor to reduce travel time between Washington DC and Boston.

Benjamin Kabab at Second Avenue Sagas takes another crack at trying to figure out how to get a cross-Hudson River tunnel done. His takeaway:
The overarching issue with ARC, Gateway of the 7 line extension is one of local government and expenditures. Who stands to benefit most from the new tunnel — New York businesses who can bring more commuters and tourists into the city or New Jersey residents who will find their commutes quicker and less stressful? Should New Jersey pay for transportation improvements that only incidentally end up in New York or should New York add more to the pot for a tunnel that adds to its economic allure?

The answer to those question is, obviously enough, probably both. To realize a new cross-Hudson rail tunnel, New York will have to add more to the pot, and they likely should. In an age of stretched state budgets though, it’s tough to see where the money will come from, and we may be in for a long wait until the next tunnel breaks ground.
Actually, he leaves out the point that a cross-Hudson tunnel is an interstate venture and Amtrak improvements would vastly improve interstate travel along the NEC. Expanding slots for NJ Transit helps the daily commuters that not only commute into Manhattan for the day, but the reverse commuters who go elsewhere. A 7 line expansion would greatly improve regional transit capabilities since a New Jersey resident would have a 1-seat ride from Secaucus all the way to Flushing, and the related access to more subway lines. It's a project worthy of further study and should be up for federal funding just as surely as the other rail projects.

Christie was right to demand that New York get in the game and pony up more funds to make the tunnel work - the ARC project could have been salvaged had New York come up with the funding to cover overruns, which was a major concern that New Jersey taxpayers would be hit with billions in overruns.

Meanwhile, talk about increasing the New Jersey gas tax to fund mass transit keep ignoring that the state's taxpayers are the most heavily burdened in the nation based on their overall tax burden and that increasing the gas tax would be a further regressive hit on all taxpayers.

Yet, at some point, that gas tax will be raised to cover transportation projects that are absolutely needed and vital to New Jersey infrastructure - both mass transit and highways. There are too many projects that are needed, and which lack the needed funds to happen anytime soon.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Scott has the authority to cancel the project. With this project all but killed, I can only hope that New Jersey and New York take advantage of the $2.4 billion to get the Portal Bridge project underway, and to get a head start on the Gateway/ARC tunnel project.

No comments: