Kate Hinds covers transportation for WNYC News.
Florida Moves On From High-Speed Rail -- and Onto Panamax Ships
Friday, March 04, 2011 - 05:04 PM
(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) UPDATED WITH SENATOR SCHUMER'S COMMENTS
Just minutes after issuing a statement that he was passing on $2.4 billion in federal funds for high-speed rail, Florida governor Rick Scott announced that he told the state Department of Transportation to spend $77 million to deep dredge Miami's port.
“This is the type of infrastructure project that will pay permanent, long-term dividends, and provide a solid return on investment for Florida’s taxpayers,” Scott said in a statement, adding: "There are a number of worthy infrastructure projects that deserve our attention, and as Floridians, we know best where our resources should be focused.”
In his statement, Scott said the dredging project would create 30,000 jobs. Rail advocates had said that building the Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail link would create 24,000 jobs.
Scott had been telegraphing his position for weeks, most recently in a conversation with Transportation Nation Wednesday, when he said "I want to focus on the places where we have a long-term impact, not just construction of high speed rail. Things like our ports, our highways, the infrastructure, that’s what I want to focus on. We’ve got a great position, Florida has, with the expansion of the Panama Canal and the expansion of the economies of Central and South America."
The Panama Canal is currently being widened. When that work is completed in 2014, it's expected that the enormous "post-Panamax" ships will become the norm, and ports across the United States are scrambling to accommodate them.
Although Florida State Senator Paula Dockery sarcastically tweeted her congratulations to California and New York, it's not clear yet where the US Department of Transportation will reallocate the money it had set aside for Florida's high-speed rail program. New York Senator Charles Schumer moved quickly to reemphasize his interest in the funds. "Florida’s loss should be New York’s gain," he said today in a written statement. "Other states may not realize the potential of high-speed rail, but rail is a top priority for upstate New York. We can put these funds to use in a way that gets the best bang for the buck. The administration should redirect these funds to New York as quickly as possible.”
Meanwhile, Congressman John Mica, who is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was more diplomatic than his colleague Dockery. “While I am disappointed that a plan to transfer the project to local governments and allow the private sector to at least offer proposals was not possible," he said in an emailed statement. " I respect Governor Scott’s decision and will continue to work with him and others to find cost-effective alternatives that keep Florida and our nation moving forward with 21st century transportation and infrastructure systems.”