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Scott being pushed to kill SunRail, too

TALLAHASSEE — With Gov. Rick Scott seemingly immobile on his decision to keep high-speed rail out of Florida, state lawmakers are pressing him to put the kibosh on another project: SunRail.

"I would have killed both of them, but the first thing I would have looked at would have been SunRail because of the money it is going to cost the state of Florida," said state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Crestview.

Evers sent a letter to Scott on Monday, urging him to pull funding for the Orlando-area commuter rail line, calling it "just as much, if not more of a boondoggle" than high-speed rail.

"We should not fund any rail projects with Florida taxpayer dollars," Evers told the governor.

Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican who is a cheerleader for high-speed rail and fought hard against SunRail, also wants to see the project yanked.

Dockery said when she spoke to Scott last week, he told her he was evaluating SunRail by the same criteria as high-speed rail.

"His thought process was, I don't want the state of Florida to be paying for it, and I don't want the state of Florida to be on the hook for cost overruns or operations and maintenance," she said. "For SunRail, the state is on the hook for all three of those. For high-speed rail, it's none of those. If high speed can't pass that analysis, I don't see how SunRail possibly can."

Both projects cost about the same to build: around $2.6 billion, even though SunRail is nearly 23 miles shorter.

State taxpayers are obligated to pay at least $900 million over seven years for SunRail, and local taxpayers are obligated to pay $526 million. The rest of the money comes from the federal government and projected ridership revenues.

With SunRail, state taxpayers would have to pay any ridership losses for the first seven years of operation and pay for 50 percent of construction cost overruns. Private vendors would have to bear those costs for high-speed rail.

"Based on what I see, the numbers for SunRail show a whole lot more obligation for the taxpayers than the high-speed rail project," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, who heads the Senate transportation committee.

That should give the governor great pause, Latvala said.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, disagrees: "There's been more planning, there's been more information and there's been more evaluation of those long-term risks with commuter rail than high-speed rail. And at least up until now, the governor has not expressed the same concern with commuter rail."

Scott has been reviewing SunRail contracts worth more than $238 million for more than a month. They are among hundreds of contracts Scott halted after his inauguration on Jan. 4 with an executive order requiring his approval for every contract over $1 million.

Scott's tea party base is also pushing him.

"High-speed rail is a first step," said Apryl Fogel, Florida director of the tea party group Americans for Prosperity. "This gives us an opportunity to look at SunRail as well."

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

Scott being pushed to kill SunRail, too 02/21/11 [Last modified: Monday, February 21, 2011 10:15pm]

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