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Nancy Smith

Tampa-to-Orlando High-Speed Rail 'Still a Loser,' Concludes Reason Foundation

December 2, 2013 - 6:00pm

The Libertarian think tank Reason Foundation has produced a report assessing whether Gov. Rick Scott did the right thing for Florida when he canceled the Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail project. What the report concludes is that Scott was right -- the Florida Department of Transportation cannot pull off a taxpayer-money-safe deal that produces a $38 million surplus by 2026, as an FDOT report suggested.

Study authors Wendell Cox and Adrian Moore write, "It is likely, as Governor Scott predicted, that ... even with financial guarantees from the private-sector builders/operator, moving forward with such a project would likely lead to a financial obligation by the state of Florida in the future."

It is the FDOT study, its contention that the Tampa-to-Orlando project would be successful, that the Reason Foundation explores -- and finds lacking.

The foundation's policy brief evaluates data in the FDOT report produced for the department by the Wilbur Smith Associates and Steer Davies Gleave (WSA/SDG) team.

The project Scott canceled in 2011 had been available through strings-attached federal stimulus dollars. The governor said his decision was to shield Florida taxpayers from billions of dollars in liabilities.

The study addresses these items specifically: ridership and revenue; optimism bias in capital costs; best case; worst case; cost overruns; and risks avoided by Florida taxpayers.

In their conclusion, authors say this: "Cancellation of the Tampa to Orlando high-speed rail project spared Florida's taxpayers from having to learn, firsthand, the consequences of optimism bias.

"The WSA/SDG surplus projection of $38 million in 2026 is based upon new, overly optimistic ridership projections. Further, the projection excludes the cost of the private investment and the cost of likely cost overruns," the authors say.

"As a result, the reality is that Florida taxpayers would face deficits of $50 million to more than $300 million in 2026."

Read Reason Foundation's "Still A Loser: The Tampa to Orlando High-Speed Rail Proposal," with the subhead "Florida taxpayers face huge operating deficits come 2026 if the project goes ahead."

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.

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