Governor Scott Is Still Sour on High-Speed Rail (and He’s Not the Only One)

by Lou Dolinar

Reports to the contrary, Florida governor Rick Scott still doesn’t want high-speed rail for Florida.

He issued a firm statement today, after reports circulated that he’d told U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson over the weekend that he’d reconsider his decision to turn down $2.4 billion in federal cash. Nelson and other supporters said they were looking at a number of schemes that would let the state off the hook for additional spending, including deficits. The main idea being circulated is a so-called “non-recourse entity,” possibly a public-private authority, which would issue tax-exempt bonds and finance the state’s share. A similar financing system was used for the Las Vegas monorail, currently in bankruptcy. Investors may get back about 33 cents on the dollar, and can’t go after the city, county, or state for the difference.

“I am absolutely not changing anything I believe in with regard to high-speed rail,” he was quoted as saying by First Coast News. “The high-speed rail is a project that we cannot afford as taxpayers. … I’m not willing to have our taxpayers take the risk of cost overruns for operating costs that we know won’t be covered by the fares, and then if it ever gets shut down we have to give the money back to the federal government. … I cannot imagine why we would ever pursue that.”  

Local support for high-speed rail looks increasingly dim in other states as well. Freight-rail companies in North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington State are objecting to the expropriation of their trackage by planned rail service. Like Scott, Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio have turned down federal funds. In California, which originally looked like a sure thing, some municipalities are objecting to costs and mismanagement as the price tag grows, and commuter-rail users in the Bay Area fear its being built at the expense of current transit. According to Fred Frailey of Trains magazine, the only major high-speed-rail project actually under way is “in Illinois, where Union Pacific is upgrading track to permit three 110-mph round trips between Chicago and St. Louis, reducing travel time by as many as 48 minutes from the current schedules of roughly 5 hours 30 minutes. Federal grants will finance almost all of this $1.1 billion undertaking.”

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