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

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: December 3, 2013 3:55 AM
High Speed Rail

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. 

Comments (14)

Bill Hutchison
3:22PM DEC 4TH 2013
The "Reason" Foundation and its front man Wendell Cox are nothing more than paid shills for Big Oil. They are about as factual as Joseph Goebbels and operate on his premise that if a lie is repeated often enough it becomes fact.

Their report flies in the face of real world experience everywhere else. And oh by the way...when was the LAST time they came out against public subsidies for highways? Didn't think so.

These guys have ZERO credibility.
11:20AM DEC 4TH 2013
To the ridiculous canard that mass transit systems are a failure if they don't turn an operating profit, would anyone care to tell me how much of a profit Florida's congested Interstate highways run?

Without High Speed Rail between Tampa Orlando and Miami travelling at 150+mph, there will be millions more tourists cramming the roads in future years, meaning that I-4 will have to be widened, at enormous expense. Do you think the Oil funded cronies at the Reason foundation will come out against that project?

Gas taxes don't even come close to funding Florida's road system and Gov. Scott's decision to stick it to Obama at the expense of Floridians will just make Florida ever more car dependant and stuck traffic in the coming years.
11:28AM DEC 4TH 2013
America is already car-dependent. Building a national rail system is not going to change that. It is only going to add to our deficit. At least you know if you widen I-4 the roadway is going to be used.
Howard Harding
11:33PM DEC 3RD 2013
The Reason Foundation is unqualified to issue such a report because its analysis and reasoning are based solely on anti-rail passenger service ideology. This Foundation is therefore incapable of performing a reasoned, even-handed analysis and presenting fact-based conclusions regarding any rail passenger service proposal, plan or actual service. Joe Sixpack -- an average citizen -- interviewed on a street corner could be expected to make more useful comments about this subject than anyone associated with The Reason Foundation.
8:38PM DEC 3RD 2013
Yawn,,,,enjoy your toll roads,,,,and looks like your oxen cart needs a new wheel ,cracker
11:31AM DEC 3RD 2013
Always trust an unbiased opinion from a Foundation who is anti-rail, anti-mass transit (and virtually everything else that makes public sense) . . . . but then they have the Governor in their pocket (i.e. they were on his transition team, which is when I realized mass transit and high-speed were on a road to being ideologically killed in this state, regardless of merit) . . . . the bias here is in the reporting, and its dependence on the opinions of groups such as the Reason Foundation, rather than undertaking actual journalism and doing an "independent, non-biased" investigation of the merits . . . . but then, whoever confused SSN with actually being journalists . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
4:44PM DEC 3RD 2013
For shame, Frank. Did you bother to read the study through? It behooves you not Smith to find holes to shoot in it. She reported what looks like a thorough study. I don't hear anybody reporting otherwise. You want her to take how many months to do what Reason did? Your partisan spirit is understandable but it colors every word you write. You are not to be taken seriously, sir.
Howard Harding
11:45PM DEC 3RD 2013
Anyone who is aware of The Reason Foundation's historic anti-rail passenger service bias knows that reading anything it publishes is not worth the paper upon which it is printed. No one association with TRF has ever had anything supportive to say about rail passenger service.
As for the reporter/writer on this item, she demonstrates the failings typical of her contemporaries -- being more stenographer than journalist, accepting at face value the words of any self-proclaimed experts without bothering to investigate either the issue at large or the quoted "experts".
Had she done her journalistic duty, she would have contacted leaders of other states who support modern rail passenger service investment. She would also have talked with the Federal Railroad Administration staff that administers the federal grants such as the one Florida rejected. Further, a good journalist would talk with the leadership of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) to at least get a differing perspective on the issue of state funded intercity rail passenger service.
8:05AM DEC 4TH 2013
Who are those journalists who kept doing so much legwork they could come up with your desired conclusion? Where are their stories? I'd like to read them? Where is the well-researched investigative work that is going to tell me high-speed rail is a good fiscal deal no matter how far down the road I look? Honest, I want to see it. Smith just reported on a very thorough report. If you don't like Reason's conclusions, debunk them with fact. Show me the sources. I like train travel as much as the next guy. Show me it's fiscally sound when America is in debt to the Chinese for trillions.
11:23AM DEC 4TH 2013
Sure . . . just as soon as you show me that auto travel requires no public funding and makes fiscal sense . . . . . . for the construction and maintenance of roads, for oil exploration, for the auto industry, for air quality control, for climate change impacts . . . for, well, you get the picture . . . think big picture and out of the box once in awhile, or just actually think for yourself once, and not as an ideological partisan . . . . this is why we label this as further politics of the "Big Lie" . . . the truthiness lie that auto travel is somehow free from public subsidies, while rail requires them . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
11:27AM DEC 3RD 2013
so sunrail is a loser also ? j d alexander got his toll road on the tax payer dime. we know what the back room deal was there.
10:09AM DEC 3RD 2013
If high speed rail is such a loser, why is All Aboard Florida investing billions to build a Miami to Orlando line? Does Wendell Cox think the private sector is wrong?
8:24AM DEC 3RD 2013
Finally! A bit late, but Scott actually did do the right thing. BUT, he also screwed up on SunRail!
Bill Hutchison
3:24PM DEC 4TH 2013
Hey Mark...the roads you use are subsidized by non-users as well as by gas taxes. In fact all forms of transportation are subsidized. Now park your car in protest!

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