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Politics

Feds Sending Another $342 Million to Florida for High-Speed Rail

December 8, 2010 - 6:00pm

With the newly elected Republican governors of Ohio and Wisconsin rejecting federal funds for high-speed rail projects, the Sunshine State looks to gain, as both Democrats and Republicans in the Florida congressional delegation are happy about the additional money.

Incoming Gov. John Kasich of Ohio is turning down monies from the federal stimulus; Gov. Scott Walker, meanwhile, is looking to spend Wisconsin's designated funds on repairing infrastructure. That leaves $1.195 billion in high-speed rail funds that were due to be penciled in for those states now available for 13 other states including Florida.

That announcement came directly from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

High-speed rail will modernize Americas valuable transportation network, while reinvigorating the manufacturing sector and putting people back to work in good-paying jobs, said LaHood. I am pleased that so many other states are enthusiastic about the additional support they are receiving to help bring Americas high-speed rail network to life.

California will get the bulk of the money -- up to as much as $624 million. Florida is penciled in to receive an additional $342.3 million, raising the total it will receive from the federal government to $2.39 billion.

Republican U.S. Sen. George LeMieux said he is happy to hear about the additional funding, noting that the planned high-speed rail project connecting Tampa and Orlando will cost $3.2 billion.

This continued support of the U.S. Department of Transportation is imperative for the success of the high-speed rail project, said LeMieux. This additional funding underscores not only the national support, but also Floridas commitment to bring better transportation solutions to the state. I look forward to the day when people can travel to and from the major city and university centers in Florida, creating a megaregion.

The federal government has stepped up and done its part, said Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.There should be no reason now why this cant get done.

Nelson, who estimated the cost of the project to be around $2.65 billion, added that the decision rests in the hands of incoming Gov. Rick Scott.

Late Thursday Scott said, I'm pleased that the federal government recognizes that sound infrastructure is key to Florida's economic growth."

But he was cautious as well.

"I look forward to reviewing the feasibility of this project in terms of return to Florida's taxpayers" Scott said in a statement. "I'm also interested in understanding the private sector's interest in funding this infrastructure project.

Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, who was named this week to lead the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee when the GOP takes over Congress in January, also praised the decision.

Additional federal funding for the new Orlando to Tampa passenger rail link should ensure the projects chance for successful completion, said Mica.

This strong commitment will help make certain that the state and local community governments and taxpayers are not left on the hook for completing construction or subsidizing future operational costs, he added. It is now essential that the private sector step up to the plate and submit proposals that cover any gap in funding the balance of the estimated $2.7 billion megaproject.

While passenger levels on the new rail system from the Orlando Airport to the tourist area and Disney World are expected to produce substantial revenue, and while todays announcement should ensure construction of the entire system, passenger service to Tampa may need to be added incrementally as the Tampa Bay area develops a future fixed transit regional distribution system, noted Mica.

"This is a great day for Florida, and a great day for rail in our state," said Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, like Mica a member of the Transportation committee and current chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. "And this additional federal funding will serve as a tremendous boost for our states plans to implement high-speed rail. We now need the partnership of Florida DOT and local government funding to match the federal governments commitment to keep this project moving forward. This partnership cannot be overlooked, since Florida could have funding taken away as well without state support of this project.

"With the unemployment rate in our state just under 12 percent, this investment in our states infrastructure comes at a most critical time, added Brown. With this funding, Floridas economy can begin to reverse this trend. As I always say, federal transportation and infrastructure funding is essential to job-creation, and for every $1 billion invested in infrastructure projects, over 42,000 well-paying jobs are created.

During the campaign, Scott stressed his opposition to the high-speed rail project; however, the New York Times reported Thursday, as Scott's statement indicated later in the day, that his team will continue to review the project.

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Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or (850) 727-0859.

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