Is Florida's high-speed rail system DOA if Rick Scott becomes governor?
Update: Don't think this is likely? Check out this story about what may be about to happen in New Jersey...
Wake up and good morning. Could the planned high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando fail to materialize (again) if Rick Scott is elected governor? There's been little written in the Florida media about the disconnect between Scott and the arrival of high-speed rail in Florida, but the truth is that Scott does not want any rail system that would require indefinite subsidies. That's an admirable, if naive stance, since many road systems in Florida are subsidized in some fashion and, under Scott's philosophy, apparently should fall under that same ban.
Of course, if Scott is elected and kills the Tampa-Orlando link, he could deliver the death blow as well to the entire statewide plan for high-speed rail. If the Tampa-Orlando link kicks in, the next phase would be the Orlando-to-Miami link of more than 200 miles.
Of course, Scott's apparent opposition to high-speed rail is not unique in this political season. As this New York Times story notes, in Wisconsin the Republican candidate for governor would kill the Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail link, and Ohio's Republican candidate for governor would squash the proposed Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati line. Even in California, where outgoing Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger champions a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman says this is the wrong economic time for bullet trains.
The immediate impact of any scuttling of the Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail line means this: Florida most likely would have to return the $1.25 billion grant it has received for the rail line to the federal government, which could then award it to states that want it.
Rail advocates who say the U.S. needs greater transportation options for the 21st century see GOP opposition as nothing but raw partisan politics, a way to destroy projects that, if successful, would stand as legacies to President Obama's stimulus plan, says this Associated Press story. "I guess it makes sense for them politically, and it plays into the fantasy that highways pay for themselves," said Richard Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, a Chicago-based nonprofit that promotes passenger rail.
There's a ripple effect here. If high-speed rail fails between Tampa and Orlando, it raises questions about the support for the regional light-rail and enhanced bus system that the Tampa Bay area is seeking to improve regional transportation in the coming decades. The high-speed rail link to Orlando (and, later, to other Florida cities) is independent from the regional light-rail and bus system that Hillsborough County is trying to jumpstart with a penny tax on the November ballot. But it's obvious a regional system that will not connect to a statewide bullet train system is a less attractive transportation concept.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist