Transportation Secretary Gives Florida Extra Week to Accept Rail Funds
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood decided on Feb. 25, after meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), to grant the governor another week to review a plan that would create an interlocal entity to oversee the proposed $2.7-billion Orlando-to-Tampa high-speed rail line and eliminate all state liability for the project.
“I feel we owe it to the people of Florida, who have been working to bring high-speed rail to their state for the last 20 years, to go the extra mile,” LaHood said in a statement.
The federal government has committed $2.4 billion to the project, to be designed, built, operated and maintained by a private consortium, which officials expect will provide the state�s share of $280 million. But on Feb. 16, the governor rejected the federal funding before the groups could submit bids.
The state planned to request bids for the Orlando-Tampa line this year and had been ready to release an estimated $170 million in “early works” contracts to prepare the Interstate-4 median for the system.
A bi-partisan group from Florida�s congressional delegation worked with U.S. Dept. of Transportation officials and local representatives to address Scott�s concerns. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D) says a new legal entity, the Florida Regional High Speed Rail Commission, would enter into a contract with the private companies that would design, build, operate, maintain and finance the project�s development. The commission would be overseen by officials from the cities of Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland and Miami.
“There would be no financial risk to Florida taxpayers,” says Nelson. “It is a way to fortify our state�s transportation network and foster growth. More importantly, given the hard times we�re all facing, it was a chance to bring thousands of new jobs to Florida.”
LaHood has already indicated if Florida turns down the funds, the $2.4 billion will be reallocated to other states interested in building high-speed rail lines.