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A note of skepticism about high-speed rail

Early last year, the president of the United States came to Florida and gave us $1.25 billion for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando.

Then in October, the feds said to Florida, "Hey, are you guys still there?" and gave us another $800 million.

Finally, just last week the feds said, "All right already, quit twisting our arms!" and gave our state yet another $324 million. So the train is now "paid for."

I figure that if we hold out a little longer, they'll come back and give every Floridian an extra $100 and a free puppy.

Interestingly, this latest bounty from the feds was made possible only because two other states, Wisconsin and Ohio, actually said "no thanks" to the dough.

Also interestingly, our own governor-elect, Rick Scott, did not immediately fall to his knees in gratitude to the Great Federal ATM for this "free" money, although lots of other politicians in Florida are eager to take it.

Instead, Scott's reply was more or less: "Yeah, thanks, we'll think about it and get back to you."

Which is actually kind of impressive.

Look. Everything about me is supposed to be in favor of this train. I am a tree-huggin', urban-plannin', save-the-planet, transit-lovin' guy.

And yet, the idea of blowing $2.6 billion on an 85-mile "high-speed" train between two cities located 90 minutes apart by car (and even less from Tampa to Disney) …

Along with the usual claims that the thing will "pay for itself" with all the thousands of people who will ride it each day, at up to $30 a pop …

Along with our current Plan B that involves dumping the Tampa-bound passengers to catch a bus for wherever, especially now that Hillsborough has rejected a light-rail tax …

Along with the fact it's just too darned inconvenient to connect the thing to Tampa International Airport, while Orlando's airport is connected on the other end …

It's making me a little itchy, is all.

DAD: Hey, let's take the kids to Disney! We'll drive from our house to downtown Tampa, find a park-and-ride lot, pay $30 apiece for us and the kids for train tickets, wait for the train, and get there about when we would have gotten there anyway for the cost of gas money. Then after an exhausting day, we'll negotiate our way from Disney back to the train station, wait for the train, get off back at the Tampa station, THEN get in our car and drive home!

MOM: Sounds perfect!

"High speed rail holds great promise for Florida's future," says the state's rail site,

"It means jobs are coming along with new business opportunities. The Tampa-Orlando line will create a new SuperRegion that can lead to a new foundation for sustainable economic prosperity. It presents Florida with new opportunities for growth management, cutting pollution and energy independence."

And I really do not want to be against a New SuperRegion. I am afraid of being like some troglodyte in the 1950s saying, "Interstate highways, pish-posh! What's wrong with good old Route 66?"

Still, about that "jobs" argument …

If that's the main reason for blowing this $2.6 billion, we could accomplish the same thing by putting all the money in a big pile and letting people grab a share.

Or by just mailing a check to every Floridian, like oil money in Alaska. Or by hiring more teachers. Or nurses. Or police officers.

So, should the new governor give back the money?

The real choice, of course, is between (1) blowing the money in Florida or (2) blowing it someplace else.

Given that choice, I know what I'm supposed to say — the same thing as our U.S. senators, our members of Congress, our mayors, our civic and business leaders, our opinion-shapers.

I'm working up to it. Not quite there yet, though.

A note of skepticism about high-speed rail 12/11/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 11, 2010 7:51pm]
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