The other day I had to go to Orlando from Tampa on Interstate 4, which has to be one of the most disliked highways in Florida. And I say this as someone who learned to drive on Miami’s I-95.
It turned out to be the same root canal of a trip we’ve come to know — semis swaying into your lane, family SUVs plastered with Mickey stickers, shirtless daredevil drivers weaving in and out of too many cars on too little road.
Traffic would bottle up to a crawl for no apparent reason, then pick up, then jam again. Gas seemed to get more expensive with each digital service station marquee you rode past. In short, your typical I-4 experience.
Which, naturally, made me think of Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Takes you back, doesn’t it? Not long after the Republican millionaire took office as governor in 2011, he rejected $2.4 billion in federal money for an 84-mile high-speed rail line connecting Tampa and Orlando.
Remember the conservative tea party and the muscle it once flexed against government spending — even for the greater good?
Remember how politicians vied for its favor?
Oh, and as an added bonus, Scott got to make a deliberate and public snub of then-President Barack Obama. High-fives all around.
Mostly, it was just a pointless disservice to the people who live and try to get around here. In the name of politics, Scott turned his back on what would have been an important step toward the kind of modern transportation this state will need. Make that: already needs.
One of the arguments you heard — and still hear whenever someone floats the idea of rail — is once you get people to the end of the line, there won’t be ground transportation to get them to their final destination. Why try?
And look at us now, getting comfortable with the likes of rideshare companies Uber and Lyft — proof that if you build it, they will come. Or at least come up with enterprising ways to make it work.
This isn’t just daydreaming of a more pleasant and efficient trip when the relatives come to town for a day at Disney or your boss sends you to a convention. It’s about a state at a standstill on transportation because politicians opt not to move forward.
Yes, feasibility should be studied and boondoggles rejected. But it doesn’t take a transportation expert to see I-4 is unique, stretching between the beachy west coast of Florida and the destination theme parks in its middle, driven by tourists who bring in big dollars to this state.
But that money went elsewhere, and we went nowhere.
Scott is lately in the news for risking the ire of the powerful National Rifle Association by signing a gun law in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. But the changes did not include a ban on the sale of assault weapons as many hoped. Still, politically, he handed out a little something for everyone, a savvy move.
Because he is also, you may have heard, running for the U.S. Senate against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
As Scott’s latest campaign rolls on, we should remember how this governor hit the brakes on what would have been progress in transportation in a place that needs it. Plenty of time to ponder that one in traffic.
Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]