Saturday, March 05, 2011

Florida's High Speed Rail Project DOA; Funds Will Go Elsewhere

Despite last minute efforts by politicians and cities that would have potentially benefited from the high speed rail connection project between Tampa and Orlando, Florida's Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Rick Scott was within his rights to cancel the $2.4 billion project and use state funds towards other infrastructure projects.


Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields said the state cannot rely on just on roads to move people, goods and services. Scuttling the train, he said, is "just not forward thinking. We have to do something different as a state."

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, lamented the loss of jobs.

"His heart is hard," she said of the governor. "Honest to goodness, I never thought I would miss Charlie Crist."

LaHood, who envisions a high-speed rail network similar to the interstate highways crisscrossing the country, said, "I know that states across America are enthusiastic about receiving additional support to help bring America's high-speed rail network to life and deliver all its economic benefits to their citizens," LaHood said.

States that could get all or part of the money include California, Illinois, Missouri and Washington.

Scott was applauded by Robin Stublen, a founder of the Punta Gorda Tea Party and a member of the Florida Alliance, a group of fiscal conservatives, as well as Sharon Calvert, co-founder of the Tampa Tea Party.

Calvert called Scott "courageous," and Stublen criticized LaHood for still spending the $2.4 billion.

"I think sending that money elsewhere is a poor decision," Stublen said. "It's not our money. We don't have it. This is not being prudent with your money."

The seven justices of the Supreme Court all agreed that Scott had the right to send back the money to Washington, rejecting the argument of state Sens. Thad Altman, R-Viera, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, that the law they helped pass in 2009 forced him to take the funds and build the train.

They issued a one-page ruling dismissing the suit.
Scott has directed that $77 million in state funds be used to dredge Miami's harbor to deepen it in anticipation of new larger ships that would take advantage of the soon to be opening Panama Canal expansion. He claims that the dredging project would eventually create 37,000 jobs, while the high speed rail project was expected to create 25,000 jobs. By that measure, Scott was right to cancel the project, but if private companies were going to cover potential overruns on the rail project, it should have been sufficient to overcome the cost issues that Scott had with the project.

This would have been a great test case to see whether true high speed rail has a chance in the US.

What's dismaying is that the Northeast Corridor wont be in line for any of these funds - $2.4 billion would go a long way to replacing the Portal Bridge, and that's a project that is truly shovel ready. Why is the Administration playing games with the funds and opting to send the money elsewhere when this project directly benefits the nation's only current high speed rail corridor (which has the highest population density and usage rates in the nation to boot).

California may get a portion of the federal funds, which would go towards that state's high speed rail project. However, no one knows the real cost of that project, which has received pledges of $3 billion in federal funds, but is likely to cost $43 billion - or more than double the next highest cost for an infrastructure project in the nation's history - Boston's Big Dig that itself went significantly over budget (by more than $10 billion).

That once again highlights the nation's dysfunctional funding mechanisms for infrastructure projects and how shifts in local priorities can derail state and federal infrastructure objections. Moreover, it shows that the prioritization of infrastructure projects is simply not there. The country is more interested in building new infrastructure while existing infrastructure is obsolete and needs replacement - such as on the NEC. We can't continue looking to build new infrastructure when the existing infrastructure is falling apart and is not capable of handling existing traffic, let alone future anticipated growth.

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