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.