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YEAR IN REVIEW FLORIDA: 2011 Rides Rails Out of the Sunshine State

Tuesday, December 27, 2011 - 10:28 AM

SunRail survived 2011; high-speed rail in Florida wasn't so lucky.

(Orlando-WMFE) The start of 2011 held a fair amount of transportation-related optimism for Florida--and with good reason. The state looked on track to be one of the first in the nation to begin a high-speed rail line, Central Florida was eying commuter rail, and Florida's brand new governor, Rick Scott, was promising fresh thinking in Tallahassee.

But then Scott took office. And one of his first decisions was to freeze major state actions until after he reviewed them. His review of high-speed rail wasn't favorable, and in February, Scott joined Republican governors from Ohio and Wisconsin in rejecting federal funds for bullet trains. The move set off a flurry of activity to stop the Sunshine State from losing the more than $2 billion slated for the project. It also raised the blood pressure of rail supporters, who were now left wondering what Scott would do to central Florida’s promised SunRail commuter line.

The governor spent months reviewing SunRail and he approved it in July.  Behind the scenes, though, powerful Republican Congressman John Mica, who chairs the U.S. House Transportation Committee, had been watching Governor Scott’s moves.  The governor was counting on Mica to approve $77 million dollars in federal funds to start deepening the port of Miami to accommodate Panamax ships.   Mica made a connection between the Governor’s approving of SunRail and his approval of the $77 million.

Florida also rolled out a major roads program in August.  It spells out proposals for creating new tolled lanes on Interstate 4 and completing a ring road around Orlando known as the Wekiva Parkway. But both programs could be susceptible to budget machinations which are set to start in next month in Tallahassee.  Last year state lawmakers raided the transportation trust fund to the tune of more than $100 million dollars to fill a budget gap.  Governor Scott says he’s loathe to pull that money out again, but he knows it's an option.

So all in all, Florida lost some high speed rail, gained SunRail, might get a major parkway around Orlando, will likely get deeper ports, and more toll roads.  Money holds the key to all of it, and legislative session starts next month.

Read our other year in review posts here.

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