One week. That's how much time Florida has to figure out some way to work around Gov. Rick Scott's indefensible rejection of a high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa and resurrect a project critical to Tampa Bay's economic future. It is a long shot at best, but there is a silver lining to this train wreck. From Washington to Tallahassee to Tampa Bay, a bipartisan cross-section of political and business leaders are working together in a desperate attempt salvage this huge opportunity for Florida. Federal officials should keep any open ear to this fast-developing, good-faith effort.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood agreed Thursday after meeting with Republican and Democratic members of the state's congressional delegation to give Florida another week to create a mechanism to accept $2.4 billion in federal funds for a high-speed rail line connecting Tampa and Orlando. LaHood's gesture was generous; plenty of states want the money already committed to Florida, and federal officials understandably want to get the money working through the nation's recovering economy as soon as possible. It is not much time, but it gives the state a chance to recover from the shock and think through a responsible way around the governor's rash decision.
This is uncharted territory. One idea floated Thursday by a bipartisan group of 26 Florida state senators calls for the money to run through a newly created state enterprise that promotes passenger rail. Under another proposal, the money would flow to local transportation agencies already in place between Tampa and Orlando. Those agencies could sign an agreement to work together in choosing a private company to build and operate the line under the state's existing competitive bidding process.
The framework, admittedly, is not nearly as desirable as having the state take the lead. But Scott created this problem, and the impact of rail on jobs, the economy and Florida's quality of life is too important for this decision to fall on protocol or inconvenience. Floridians should be impressed by the remarkable outpouring of bipartisan effort by political and business leaders at every level. These members of Congress, state legislators, mayors, county commissioners, business leaders and community activists should work hard to find a way to bring high-speed rail to Florida. The time is short and the odds are long, but perhaps creative thinking by many Floridians can overcome the narrow-mindedness of one.