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Ray LaHood: Fortune Magazine account of Rick Scott's horse-trading over high-speed rail is not accurate

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Friday challenged a recent Fortune Magazine account that Gov. Rick Scott might have accepted $2 billion for high-speed rail if the Obama administration had been more willing to negotiate support for dredging the ports of Miami and Jacksonville.

"We just gave a grant to Jacksonville," LaHood said during a news conference in Tampa, where he visited the job site of a $395 million elevated highway being built partly with federal stimulus funds.

"It doesn't sound like if we gave them a TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant, that quite comports with what the governor said in the article," LaHood said. "As a matter of fact, it doesn't comport at all. It's not accurate."

As transportation secretary, LaHood said he had probably visited Florida half a dozen times in three years and met hundreds of people, but "I've only met one person in Florida who didn't want high-speed rail."

"Florida had one of the best high-speed rail plans in America, and so that the idea that the governor turned down the high-speed rail money because of Ray LaHood is baloney," LaHood said. "We just gave Jacksonville a port grant, and they didn't accept the high-speed rail money. We did it because they had a good program there and they've got good leadership in the community."

Last month, federal transportation officials awarded the Jacksonville Port Authority a $10 million grant, but not for dredging, which is what Fortune reported that the governor wanted federal support for. Instead, the grant was to support the construction of a $45 million Intermodal Container Transfer Facility at the port's Dames Point Marine Terminal.

After the award, Jacksonville Port Authority CEO Paul Anderson noted in a statement that the port had asked for $25 million of the project's $45 million total cost, so getting $10 million means "we must go back and work diligently to try and make up the shortfall, if we are to proceed."

"We thank the secretary and his staff for this award," Anderson said.

In a lengthy profile, Fortune writer Tory Newmyer reported that "though he was skeptical of the (high-speed rail) project's merits, Scott had been trying to cut a deal with the Obama administration to improve the state's position" on dredging at the ports.

The profile continued:

He believed the White House badly wanted him to accept the funding to build what they hoped would become a model for a nation-spanning system of high-speed rail. Scott, however, was keener to secure federal help dredging the Jacksonville and Miami ports, to make them accessible to the supertankers that will be ferrying cargo through an enlarged Panama Canal as soon as 2014. Republican state senator Paula Dockery, an early Scott backer and adviser on transportation issues, says Scott at one point told her he was inclined to accept the rail project but was using it as a bargaining chip with Washington. Scott doesn't dispute her account. He says he told Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, "You want this project done. I can tell you what I'm interested in. If you want to make it interesting to me, make it interesting to me." Scott says that since LaHood refused to negotiate, his original misgivings carried the day.

LaHood came toTampato advocate for the additional infrastructure spending that President Obama called for in his State of the Union address this week. The president proposed using about half the money saved from ending the nation's wars inAfghanistanandIraq-- about $200 billion over the next six years -- to build new roads, bridges, rail lines and other infrastructure needed to keep theU.S.competitive in a global economy.

LaHood,U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the $105 million in stimulus money being spent on the connector bridge between Interstate 4 and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway will not only improve transportation but will foster economic development.

Local officials have said the I-4 connector project could generate up to new 14,000 jobs during its three years of construction. Moreover, Castor said, stimulus funds also created jobs by making significant investments atTampaInternationalAirport, rebuilding bulkheads at thePortofTampa, extending Tampa's streetcar line, repaving runways at MacDill Air Force Base and putting solar panels atop theHillsboroughCountycourthouse.

"I tell those folks who say that we shouldn't be investing in infrastructure, that stimulus money is a waste of money, come be a mayor," Buckhorn said.

Posted by Richard Danielson at 3:23:19 pm on January 27, 2012