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Florida's high-speed rail money goes to 15 states

WASHINGTON — More than $2 billion in high-speed rail money that was rejected by Florida Gov. Rick Scott was redistributed Monday to 15 other states.

The news brought fresh criticism in Florida, where a Republican state senator blasted the governor, while politicians in the winning states sent praise.

"When Gov. Scott declined to accept his state's share of these federal funds, we said we wanted to make Florida's loss Delaware's gain, and that's exactly what we did," said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware.

The biggest piece — $795 million — will go toward improving speeds, from 135 to 160 miles per hour, in the northeast.

There is also funding for a Chicago-St. Louis line, expanded service between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and $196 million to boost speeds on a section of the Chicago-to-Detroit corridor.

"These projects will put thousands of Americans to work, save hundreds of thousands of hours for American travelers every year, and boost U.S. manufacturing by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in next-generation, American-made locomotives and railcars," Vice President Joe Biden said.

Scott drew national attention for his decision to scrap Florida's long-planned rail project, which would have run from Orlando to Tampa and generated thousands of jobs. He questioned whether ridership would be high enough and said the state would be on the hook for unforeseen costs.

Those complaints were disputed by rail advocates, who tried to circumvent Scott by forming a coalition that would have received the funds. The effort failed.

"There's only one person in Florida that didn't want high-speed rail," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

There were other skeptics, but the Florida project enjoyed strong support across party lines.

"It is disappointing to see Florida taxpayers' dollars flowing to other states," U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said.

Republican state Sen. Thad Altman, who joined a lawsuit to try to block Scott's move, blasted Scott for spreading "misinformation." During the recent federal budget stalemate, Congress cut about $1.5 billion in rail funding and Scott quickly issued a news release taking credit.

Florida would have gotten $2.4 billion, and $2 billion was redistributed Monday. The DOT acknowledged the other $400 million was a budget casualty.

That may provide Scott a small measure of satisfaction, but the DOT said the bulk of the money distributed Monday was Florida's.

"This is the final piece of misinformation," Altman said. "The governor is either intentionally lying or it's malfeasance."

Before Scott, governors in Ohio and Wisconsin had rejected rail money, so Florida picked up nearly the entire cost of its project. Then Scott announced he, too, was rejecting the money.

"There's a lot of disappointment in Florida," LaHood said Monday, "but we're well beyond that now."

Times/Herald staff writer Michael C. Bender contributed to this report.

Florida's high-speed rail money goes to 15 states 05/09/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 9, 2011 10:26pm]
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