After Florida's Supreme Court upheld Gov. Rick Scott's power to terminate a planned high-speed rail project, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood signaled that other states will be able to tap the $2.4 billion of grants Scott was rejecting.
That means large amounts of the money could go into freight railroad-owned corridors to expand intercity passenger rail service, to pay for track and signal upgrades that could also help make freight operations faster or more efficient. Until now, about half the grant money in the program was targeted at regular Amtrak service in freight corridors, while only Florida and California planned true high-speed trains.
Scott opposed building a Tampa-Orlando bullet train service, saying it would create potential financial risks to state taxpayers despite proposals to shield the state from costs. Two state senators appealed to the high court, arguing that the legislature had approved the plan and Scott was overstepping his authority to kill it.
In the weeks since Scott said Feb. 16 he would reject the grants, officials from many states have said they would want some of the money. LaHood this week told the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials that the administration's intercity passenger rail program is still actively expanding in 35 states, despite rejections from Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida.
Scott notified LaHood early today of his final decision. LaHood later emphasized that the president's high-speed rail program "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."
Florida's project was expected to create 24,000 new jobs. Now, LaHood said, "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."
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, had backed the Florida high-speed train project and criticized Scott for rejecting it. He told AASHTO that for the rail project grants he and LaHood were trying "to provide adult supervision."
Today, Mica said, "while I am disappointed that a plan to transfer the project to local governments and allow the private sector to at least offer proposals was not possible, I respect Gov. Scott's decision." The chairman said he will keep working with Scott and others "to find cost-effective alternatives that keep Florida and our nation moving forward with 21st Century transportation and infrastructure systems."
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.