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Rail Fight Close to Finished

February 24, 2011 - 6:00pm

Officials in Gov. Rick Scotts administration said Thursday nothing has changed his mind about the prospects for high-speed rail, and backers of the train conceded that it appeared Florida will lose the $2.4 million Washington had offered, and any chance to build it.

While Scott didnt speak publicly on Thursday, several backers acknowledged that the state wasnt going to meet a federal deadline of Friday for coming up with a way to accept the money that was acceptable to Scott. Supporters of the train, many of them from Central Florida, said the governors opposition was simply too much to overcome.

The governor doesnt want it, Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, told the News Service. I dont think theres any way.

Federal officials had set the deadline for Florida officials to come up with a plan that would legally allow the backers to get the proposal going. On Thursday, the Florida Department of Transportation no longer had a high-speed rail website.

And the states two major congressional backers of the train, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, conceded there was no way forward.

I have done all that I can to salvage the project to this point and present what I consider to be a viable alternative plan that places the risk with the private sector and protects the taxpayers, said Mica in a statement.

While the governors action will terminate the project at this time, it is my intention to work to salvage millions of dollars already expended and years of study on the critically important link from the Orlando airport to our tourist area, Mica said.

I am disappointed and quite frankly think it pitiful that Scott would turn down $2.4 billion in allocated funding for high-speed rail in the nations fourth largest state, Nelson said in a statement released to the media Thursday afternoon. Such a decision will cost Florida 24,000 new jobs and will obstruct economic growth along the I-4 corridor, and eventually all the way from Orlando to Miami.

Scott has said the project would be a boondoggle that would never bring in more money than it would cost, and said he feared predicted that the state would ultimately be on the hook. If it faltered, the state would have to return the $2.4 billion, the governor said several times in the last couple of weeks.

Nelson said he still thought there would have been a way to take the money and build a rail without putting the state in jeopardy.

A bipartisan group from Floridas congressional delegation has spent the past week working with U.S. Department of Transportation officials and representatives of the cities of Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland and Miami, to painstakingly address all of Scotts concerns, Nelson said. They came up with a detailed plan that removed any financial burdens from the state and taxpayers, and placed them into the hands of private companies.

The plan would have had the state transfer the money to regional officials who could then work with the private sector to build, operate, maintain and finance the train.

Furthermore, these private entities would be the ones to face financial repercussions if the system ever faltered, Nelson said. In other words, there would be no financial risk to Florida taxpayers.

Officials in Scotts office didnt return a call for comment from the News Service.

The federal government will likely offer the money to other states, with California and New York considered likely recipients. Wisconsin and Ohio, both of which also have new Republican governors, had also turned down federal money for high-speed rail.

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