Transport Theory

No more high-speed rail for Florida

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The Florida Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Rick Scott was well within his means to refuse federally allocated funds -- $2.4 billion -- to build a high-speed rail line in his state.

The Obama administration's efforts to get high-speed rail to Florida are all but dead. Today the Supreme Court of the state ruled that Governor Rick Scott was well within his means to refuse the $2.4 billion allocated to the state to build a high-speed rail line connecting Tampa to Orlando.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that the money would be sent to other states.

In a unanimous ruling earlier today, the Florida Supreme Court turned down the suit brought by two state Senators, Thad Altman of Melbourne (R) and Arthenia Joyner of Tampa (D) — who had argued that the governor was obligated to take the money, because the Florida State Legislature voted in December 2009 to authorize the project.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D, however, has asked LaHood if he would reopen the bidding process to allow four cities -– Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Lakeland -– to seek the funds without the Governor's involvement.

Scott, though, would have to authorize land use for the project and he has in the past refused a similar proposal.

Scott’s spokesman, Brian Burgess, released the following statement:

“The Governor is gratified that the court provided a clear and unanimous decision, he is now focused on moving forward with infrastructure projects that create long-term jobs and turn Florida’s economy around. He also spoke with US DOT Secretary LaHood this morning and informed him that Florida will focus on other infrastructure projects and will not move forward with any federal high speed rail plan.”

However, mayors from Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Lakeland had managed to create a deal where private companies would pay for the project and operating expenses.

LaHood, who is a big supporter of a nation-wide high-speed rail network, 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."

California, Illinois, Missouri, Washington and New York are all vying for the money now.

Scott is the third newly-elected Republican governor who has returned federal money for high speed rail. Scott claimed that the project would result in cost overruns and that Florida tax payers would be left paying the difference. Earlier this year, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio also canceled rail projects in their states, citing potential high costs as well.

House Republicans have been wary of Obama’s high-speed rail initiative from the get-go. Obama, however, in his budget proposal last month, had called for spending $53 billion on passenger trains and high-speed rail projects over the next six years. He has maintained that an investment into rail would help jump start the economy by creating jobs that cannot be outsourced and would help reduce our dependence on oil.

Unfortunately, politics seems to have become the biggest winner in the end.

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Ami Cholia

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Ami Cholia has written for AltTransport, Inhabitat, The Huffington Post and Sunday Mid Day in India. She holds degrees from the University of Texas at Austin and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure