Sunday, February 20, 2011


GOP Gov. Rick Scott has killed the high speed rail project in central Florida, but that doesn't mean it's dead.  House Republicans and Democrats from along the I-4 corridor are trying to do everything they can to get the money and create badly needed jobs in their districts.

Advocates for high-speed rail in Florida were hustling to keep it alive late Friday, cobbling plans to accept the federal money Gov. Rick Scott rejected this week.

U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, floated a proposal to dramatically shrink the project to an Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World link, cutting Tampa and Lakeland out of the mix, for now.

Mica, who chairs the House transportation committee, said an initial 21-mile starter train, with a stop at the Orange County Convention Center, shows the best ridership potential and could even turn a profit. Some portion of the $2.4 billion in federal grant money would flow to Orange and Osceola counties and the city of Orlando. The three governments would forge a compact to solicit bids and oversee construction of the project and other partner governments could be added later, he said.

The shorter distance likely would take much of the high speed out of high-speed rail in Florida. The trains have to travel several miles to reach speeds of 160 mph or more and slow down well in advance of stops.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, shared a legal opinion from Tampa City Attorney Chip Fletcher. It contends that there are a variety of ways local governments could team up to create an umbrella government to accept grant money and oversee the rail project. And Fletcher’s opinion states that either the Florida Department of Transportation or the Legislature could assign the federal grant money over to the newly created agency.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave state lawmakers a week to come up with a plan to keep the money from going to other states.

“And since Secretary LaHood gave us one week from today, everyone went to work today,” Castor said.

Needless to say, the jobs these Representatives want to save include their own.  GOP Rep. John Mica is especially vulnerable.  What's the point of being in charge of the House Transportation Committee if you can't deliver on infrastructure jobs?

Rick Scott might not give a damn about rail in Florida, but John Mica's been in Congress for almost 20 years and I'm betting he wants to still be in Congress after Scott has burned down Tallahassee.  Odds are pretty good that won't happen if they can't sell Ray LaHood on a new plan by Friday.

The bigger issue is that there's already bipartisan support for telling Rick Scott to go to hell.  Going to be very interesting to see how this all plays out.

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