Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, may have returned federally allocated high-speed rail money from his state, but the rest of the country is only too happy to jump on board.
According to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the Department of Transportation has received over 90 applications from 24 states, the District of Columbia, and Amtrak, for the $2.4 billion in high-speed rail money rejected by Florida. The requests add up to more than $10 billion, nearly four times the available funds.
While Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio also returned funds citing potential cost overruns in the past few months, governors from both major parties are now asking for the newly released money. Ironically, Wisconsin's governor, Scott Walker, who had earlier rejected $810 million for a project in his state (money that eventually went to Florida), has put in a request for $150 million, that would be used to upgrade train service between Chicago and Milwaukee.
LaHood said on the Department of Transportation's blog, "Why is demand for high-speed rail support so high? Because elected officials have seen the immediate benefits of jobs where rail work has already begun. They've seen these jobs in Maine--where the Downeaster extension to Brunswick is under construction--and they've seen them in Illinois--where 96 miles of track are now being laid for the Chicago-St. Louis high-speed corridor."
LaHood said the department's Federal Railroad Administration will begin determining which of the 90 projects can quickly deliver benefits such sustained economic development, reduced energy consumption, and improved regional transportation efficiency.
If Florida had kept its high-speed rail money, a train line would have connected Tampa to Orlando, with federal funds paying for 90 percent of the costs.
Four Florida cities — Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Lakeland -– had been hoping to bid for the high-speed money without Scott’s involvement, but the money will not return to the state.
When rejecting the money, Scott had originally claimed that he didn't want to burden taxpayers for increased costs, however a report released by Florida's Department of Transportation had found that the project would have exceeded both financial and ridership projections that were first made in 2009.
As we've reported before, data released from the Florida Department of Transportation showed that the operations would have made a surplus of $10.24 million in 2016, the first full year the trains would have run, and a $28.58 million surplus in 2026. Even ridership, which Scott had claimed would be low, was expected to hit 3.3 million riders during the train’s first year of operation in 2015-16.
As the price of oil continues to rise, and as our populations grow, rail is going to become increasingly important in this country -- because our current dependence on our cars is unsustainable.
As Lahood said, "If we refuse to plan ahead, our commercial arteries will be constricted, preventing businesses from moving goods to markets and choking our economy."
President Barack Obama in his State of the Union speech had said that he wants to create a national network of high-speed trains, making trains accessible to 80 percent of Americans within 25 years.
While that's an ambitious goal, the support across party and state lines seems encouraging.