WASHINGTON — States officials are eyeing $2.4 billion of federal high-speed rail money that was allocated for Florida, but is now up for grabs after Gov. Rick Scott effectively ended the state’s project by rejecting the funding earlier this month.
Ten U.S. senators, representing Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, told Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a letter sent to him Monday that the federal government has been stingy in its high-speed rail funding for the Northeast Corridor. The senators argued that Northeast states have about one-fifth of the country’s population, yet they have received less than 2% of the $10.5 billion in federal funding for high speed rail.
“We believe that this is an insufficient investment in the Northeast Corridor, given our region’s position as a population and economic mega-region,” the senators said in their request for the Florida funds.
The Washington-to-Boston rail corridor is the busiest in the country with 10.4 million passengers annually, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
On Feb. 15, Scott announced he was rejecting the federal money for the state’s high-speed rail project, which would connect Orlando and Tampa. Scott, who was inaugurated this January, said potential cost overruns and “overly optimistic” revenue projections put Florida taxpayers at risk of eventually subsidizing the rail line.
The Florida project is considered the furthest along in development among the projects nationally. More than $27 million has been spent on the project so far.
On Friday, LaHood extended to March 4 a deadline for Florida to accept the federal funds. The extension gives Scott more time to review a proposal from four local governments -- Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland, and Miami -- to take control of the project with the federal funds, LaHood said in a statement.
Speaking to The Bond Buyer on Sunday at the National Governors Association’s winter meeting, Scott gave no indication he was about to change his mind and accept the funds.
“I’m responsible for the taxpayers of the state,” Scott said. The advocates for the Florida project “gave themselves another week to try to convince me,” he said.
On Friday, following LaHood’s extension announcement, Scott said in a statement that he believes high-speed rail “is a federal boondoggle.”
The Northeast states could face competition from Western states in their effort to secure the Florida money.
Washington State has received $161.5 million in federal funds redirected from Wisconsin and Ohio, which earlier rejected federal high speed rail money.
Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire has also petitioned for the Florida money to fund a Seattle-to-Portland high-speed rail line. The Florida money could also be directed to projects in California, which high-speed rail officials say has the most advanced project development after Florida.
Michael Bedke, a partner at DLA Piper in Tampa and the firm’s co-chair of the rail sector, said he thinks Scott is unlikely to change his mind and accept the federal funds. He said one possible solution could involve a meeting between Scott and the eight consortiums of businesses that have expressed interest in the project could possibly revive the project.
He said the governor may change his mind when confronted by the businesses committed to bringing the project to life. But there is no indication that Scott has called for such a meeting, he said.
Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said Saturday that he has already requested $100 million of the Florida money for high-speed rail projects in his state.
“Hopefully, [Florida’s] loss will be our gain,” he said in a brief interview at the NGA meeting Saturday.