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Even after Bush and Scott, high-speed rail almost here in Florida

Bush killed a bullet train when he was governor. So did Scott.
Published Nov. 29, 2017
Updated Nov. 29, 2017

Don't look now, but high-speed rail, er, express passenger service, is about to debut in Florida.

As Wayne K. Roustan writes for the Sun-Sentinel, Brightline will open a link between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach next month and to Miami by early next year.

How, in road-loving Florida of all places, did we get this far?

Remember the good ol' days, back in 1999, when Gov. Jeb Bush killed a $6.3 billion train, in one of his first official acts in office?

The first leg of the "French-style, 200-mph bullet train" would have been between Orlando and Miami and was planned to open by 2004. A link to Tampa would have been added in 2006.

Although the money was all there for the project, Bush said he was afraid the state would be forced to "accept greater and greater liability, which was never the intention." The state spent $6 million it had to pay developers for pulling out of the deal, but Bush said it would have cost a lot more to go ahead with it.

He cited a report from the federal General Accounting Office that said the project would face uncertainties (unlike other multi-billion projects, I guess). Bush said Wall Street would look with "disfavor" on the project because it would require state officials to borrow money.  Wall Street hates infrastructure projects that require bonds, too. Take that Interstate Highway System.

Bush wrote constituents at the time explaining he just didn't dig the idea of the bullet train.

"People thought it was 'cool' to have a really fast train running from Miami to Tampa," Bush wrote to one resident, according to the Los Angeles Times. "No costs were discussed. The higher taxes that are necessary will dramatically change the dynamic."

Bush had other plans for the money set aside for the project. He told reporters then that it would be spent instead on improvements in Tampa and Orlando to boost the area's bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Five years later, the Interstate 4 Corridor is still riding the economic benefits from those majestic games. Who can forget all those memories and just how spectacular Central Florida sparkled for the world, showing off its rush hour traffic and paltry mass transit?

It took Florida 11 years to get back in a position where federal money was going to pick up major costs of a high-speed rail system, but Gov. Rick Scott killed that in one of his first official acts, too.

Like Bush, Scott, citing scant evidence, was "convinced" that cost overruns and risk were too much for the planned $2.4 billion project (impressive how much cheaper this version was from the 1999 version). It would have run from Tampa to Orlando.

Of course, the project's biggest drawback is pretty obvious.

It wouldn't have opened until after the 2012 Summer Olympics.