Florida's $2 billion for High Speed Rail Goes Elsewhere

high speed rail coming to AmericaIt’s all over for high-speed rail in Florida.

The Tampa to Orlando line had the backing of everyone from business to the state’s Republican legislators; but Rick Scott, the new Tea Party-backed governor, blocked it as a “big government boondoggle”. Today the Transportation Department announced that the money will go elsewhere.

Scott had claimed that even though the Federal Government was fully funding the project to the tune of $2 billion dollars, the state couldn’t afford what he called “huge operating costs” – this despite the fact that investor groups had guaranteed to cover any overruns or deficits.

What became clear was that this wasn’t about economics, but about ideology – just as in New Jersey and Wisconsin, where Republican governors blocked equally necessary rail programs out of opposition to “big government”.

Florida’s Tampa to Orlando line would have been the first high-speed rail line to be put into operation, and the run from the Orlando airport to the Disney resorts would have guaranteed passengers… but having a successful showpiece was the last thing the anti-rail ideologues wanted. So that’s that.

Instead, the $2 billion will go to parts of the country that are more amenable to rail: The Northeast, the Midwest, and California. And while he was probably disappointed with Florida, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he’s thrilled to be moving forward the long-term goal of connecting 80 percent of Americans to high-speed rail within 25 years.

“Today we are advancing President Obama’s historic high-speed rail blueprint,” LaHood said, “through 22 carefully selected projects that will create jobs, boost manufacturing, and spur development while laying the foundation for our future economic competitiveness. We are providing two billion dollars to 15 states and Amtrak to help build out America’s high-speed rail network, enabling people and goods to travel more quickly, safely and energy-efficiently than ever before.”

LaHood added that this new infrastructure is critical if we’re going to continue America’s growth, while reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign imports.

“If I sound excited about the prospect of American high-speed rail,” said LaHood, “it’s because I am.   High-speed intercity passenger rail offers real, practical benefits–benefits we cannot afford to ignore.  Jobs, manufacturing, economic development, reduced dependence on foreign oil, and a future economy that can truly serve our population–today’s awards bring those benefits one step closer.”

Where the money’s going:

Northeast Corridor (NEC) –  $795 million to upgrade some of the most heavily-used sections of the corridor. The investments will increase speeds from 135 to 160 miles per hour on critical segments.

Midwest – $404.1  for new segments of 110-mph track between Detroit and Chicago that will save 30 minutes in travel time (and create nearly 1,000 new construction jobs). There will also be upgrades to the Chicago to St. Louis corridor.

California – 300 million to extend the Central Valley project, the backbone of the Los Angeles to San Francisco corridor that will ultimately be the nation’s first 220-mph high-speed rail system.

Rail Cars – $336.2 million to boost U.S. manufacturing of state-of-the-art locomotives and rail cars for California and the Midwest.

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Jeremy Bloom

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue.