High speed rail project officially dies in Florida, sending rail money to other states

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announces his new budget during a Tea Party event in Eustis, Fla., Monday, Feb. 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
Rick Scott
Florida Gov. Rick Scott announces his new budget during a Tea Party event in Eustis, Fla., Monday, Feb. 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Plans to build a high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando died Friday, when the Florida Supreme Court sided with Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who has argued he has no obligation to accept federal funding for the project.

The 84-mile rail line was expected to be a highlight of the Obama administration's infrastructure investments, but the new Republican governor turned down the $2.4 billion in federal funds allocated for the project. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had tried to convince Scott to take the money, but in a statement today, LaHood confirmed the money will now go to other states investing in high speed rail.

"The Obama Administration's bold high-speed rail plan will not only create jobs and reinvigorate our manufacturing sector in the near term, it is a crucial and strategic investment in America's future prosperity," LaHood said in a statement. "I know that states across America are enthusiastic about receiving additional support to help bring America's high-speed rail network to life and deliver all its economic benefits to their citizens."

Scott announced last month he was rejecting the money because he was he believed the state could be on the hook for as much as $3 billion in cost overruns.

Democratic state lawmaker Arthenia Joyner and Republican Thad Altman subsequently filed a suit arguing that Scott was overstepping his executive authority by nixing the project. The court today, however, sided unanimously with Scott.

In response to Scott's concerns, LaHood said his department had worked with Scott to ensure that private businesses competing for the project would assume the cost overruns and operating expenses -- not the state. Additionally, the Miami Herald reports, local governments, including Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland and Miami, formed a coalition to assume responsibility for ensuring that a private company would cover any cost overruns.

Nevertheless, at the "Share a Little Sunshine" tourism kickoff in Orlando Tuesday, Scott said, "They have not convinced me that the taxpayers are not on the hook" for the project.

Scott spokesperson Brian Burgess said in a statement the governor is "gratified" by the court's decision today, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

"He is now focused on moving forward with infrastructure projects that create long-term jobs and turn Florida's economy around," he said.

Scott said today he is directing the state Department of Transportation to spend $77 million on a port dredging project so the Port of Miami can handle larger ships.

Meanwhile, lawmakers from a number of other states have lobbied for the high speed rail money, including 10 senators from northeastern states who penned a letter to LaHood on Monday arguing why they should receive it.

"With its large population and high economic activity, the Northeast Corridor is well-positioned to lead the nation into the future of high-speed rail transportation," the senators wrote. "If another project sponsor in Florida is not found, our states stand ready to put the unwanted funds to good use to improve our existing high-speed rail service, create jobs, and reduce congestion and air pollution."