Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he is giving Florida Gov. Rick Scott more time to consider a new plan to keep the Tampa-Orlando bullet train alive and hold onto $2.4 billion in federal grants for the project.
LaHood earlier told Florida lawmakers he was giving them until Feb. 25, to see if they could revise the project enough to meet Scott's insistence that no state tax money goes into construction or operation of the high-speed rail line. Scott had announced Feb. 16 he would decline the grants.
But after Scott on Feb. 24 again appeared to foreclose any chance he would support it, LaHood said he met Friday with Scott to discuss the issues, as the governor is visiting Washington for meetings of the National Governors Association.
"I have decided to give Gov. Scott additional time to review the agreement crafted by local officials from Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland and Miami," LaHood said, "and to consult with his staff at the state department of transportation. He has committed to making a final decision by the end of next week."
Scott says Florida's state government could get stuck with cost overruns and long-term operating costs running into the billions of dollars. LaHood earlier told Bloomberg "I don't know of another person in Florida that agrees with that … I don't know of anybody else, except for the governor, who thinks that this would be a bad deal."
The U.S. DOT has said it already presented Scott with plans that would have protected the state against such risks. State lawmakers from both parties have said they will keep trying to revive the plan. Otherwise, LaHood could shift the money to the 35 other states that have passenger rail plans moving, mostly by upgrades to tracks and signals of freight rail lines to take on more or faster Amtrak trains, rather than the true high-speed rail corridors planned for Florida.
LaHood said he and Scott met "to discuss the high-speed rail project that will create jobs and economic development for the entire state of Florida. He asked me for additional information about the state's role in this project, the responsibilities of the Florida Department of Transportation, as well as how the state would be protected from liability" as local communities and private firms take on the risks to develop and run it.
"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.
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.