Streams

 

Rick Scott

Transportation Nation

No Deal: Florida High Speed Rail Lost in Space

Friday, February 25, 2011

Florida Governor Rick Scott at the Port of Jacksonville in January 2011. Scott has said he supports investments in ports and highways. But not high speed rail. (Flickr image by JAXPORT)

[UPDATE: On Friday morning, Governor Scott asked USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood for another week to consider the proposal for an interlocal entity, the potential compromise described below.]

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) Florida Governor Rick Scott will make no formal announcement about his final decision to kill the Tampa-to-Orlando high speed rail line, his spokesperson told the Tampa Tribune. It seems that the people of Florida and the nation will have to settle for a brief interview Scott gave to a local Fox News affiliate. “I’m not convinced that project is a good project," he said. "There’s a significant risk of cost overruns for construction. Historically that’s what’s happened with those projects.”

Neither the reporter, Derrol Nail, nor the Governor seemed to appreciate the irony that these remarks were delivered at the Kennedy Space Center, where Discovery departed on its final mission yesterday. NASA's shuttle program, a rather expensive mode of transportation enjoyed by only a few, has nevertheless brought great economic development to the region, and the winding down of the shuttle program will mean layoffs: United Space Alliance, for instance, has announced that 548 workers at Kennedy will lose their jobs come April.

Constructing America’s first high speed rail line in Florida, while not as difficult as building a space station, would more than make up for that dip in employment. Senator Nelson, who was also on hand at the launch, told Fox that the Governor “has made a mistake that’s going to cost people 24,000 jobs in the immediate future.” The Senator’s official statement yesterday pulled no punches. Nelson called the Governor’s decision to reject $2.4 Billion in federal high speed rail funds “pitiful,” “a monumental mistake,” and “hasty and ill-informed.”

Scott’s spokesperson held firm, insisting that “the governor remained principled in his position in protecting Florida taxpayers.” And indeed, principle appeared to play a larger role than practicality.

Read More

Comments [4]

Transportation Nation

Florida Governor's Decision Disappoints -- and Enrages

Thursday, February 24, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) He's made no official announcement, but Florida Governor Rick Scott's decision not to hand over authority for high speed rail to another entity, thereby killing the project, is drawing a loud response. (And of this writing, officials said that even US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood hasn't been formally notified). Earlier today the governor told a local Fox News affiliate: "I'm very thankful that the federal government cares about our infrastructure" and "I'm not convinced this project is a good project." And bipartisan denunciations condemning his refusal to move forward with high-speed rail are rolling in.

Senator Bill Nelson, who spent the last week trying to change Scott's mind, called the governor's decision a "monumental mistake" and added "I think..the governor in rejecting the project may even be exceeding his constitutional authority."

His scathing statement continues: "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 nation’s fourth largest state.  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." (His full -- and lengthy -- statement can be found in a link at the end of this post.)

Meanwhile, Congressman John Mica - the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a member of Scott's own party --was more measured. His statement that said: “The Governor has made his decision to not pursue the Florida passenger rail project. I understand his concerns with the overall project, which would incur certain risks. 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. I feel confident the 21-mile segment from the Orlando Airport to the Convention Center and Disney World can be a feasible and profitable transportation link for Florida. While the Governor’s 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. I intend to reassess the project and work with local partners to continue seeking a federal and local solution in building this infrastructure project.”

You can read Senator Nelson's full statement below.

Bill Nelson statement pdf

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Florida High Speed Rail, like ARC Tunnel, Dead Again

Thursday, February 24, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  UPDATED WITH US DOT COMMENTS: Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott is sticking to his decision to kill the Tampa to Orlando high speed rail.

Scott's decision is a major setback to President Obama's goal, put forward in his state of the union, to link eighty percent of Americans to high speed rail within 25 years.

In an unusually sharply worded statement, U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Olivia Alair said “The U.S. Department of Transportation has addressed every legitimate concern Governor Scott has raised with respect to plans to connect Florida through high-speed rail. We have repeatedly and clearly told Governor Scott and his staff that Florida would not bear financial or legal liabilities for the project, and that there is strong private sector interest in taking on the risk associated with building and operating high-speed rail in the state.”

Last week Scott abruptly announced he would be pulling the plug on the $2.7 billion rail line, the first true high speed rail in the U.S.   The Tampa to Orlando line, which was also to stop at Disney World, was to have been complete in just four years -- by 2015.  Scott said Florida's $280 million investment carried too much risk, and that he would return $2.4 billion to the federal government.

But a day after Scott's decision,

Read More

Comments [3]

Transportation Nation

Florida High-Speed Rail: Talks Ongoing, Gov. Remains Unconvinced

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) With two days left to broker an agreement on high-speed rail in Florida, talks are ongoing -- but Governor Rick Scott remains unconvinced.

The parties -- among them Senator Bill Nelson, the U.S. Department of Transportation, Congressman John Mica, and Congresswoman Corrine Brown -- are keeping it close to the vest.

A spokesperson for Senator Bill Nelson's office would only confirm that talks between the DOT and Florida officials were ongoing -- and that there were no new developments.

Congressman John Mica (R-FL) is in Los Angeles holding hearings on the transportation reauthorization bill. A spokesman didn't return requests for comment.

But Congresswoman Corrine Brown (D-FL) who has been toiling with Mica, Nelson and other members of Florida's congressional delegation to salvage the state's high-speed rail program, has been working the phones and will return to Florida tomorrow for the final push, according to her press secretary, David Simon. An official familiar with the US DOT says "discussions are still ongoing and Friday is still the deadline."

Governor Rick Scott's press office hasn't responded to Transportation Nation queries, but a spokesman did tell the St. Petersburg Times (article here) "Nothing in the discussions so far alleviates the governor's concerns that Florida's state taxpayers would still be on the hook."

Scott last week said he was sending back $2.4 billion in federal funding for high speed rail. He said Florida's $280 million contribution was too risky.

Meanwhile, tonight in Orlando there's a pro-high-speed rail rally, organized by the former Orange County commissioner.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Oil Prices Up -- As Are Airline Prices, NJ Transit Riders Exhale, and Florida Still Without Top Transpo Official

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A California Democrat introduced a bill that would fire the current members of the board governing California's high-speed rail project and replace them with experts who don't have a financial stake in the undertaking. (Oakland Tribune)

Oahu's $5.5 billion, 21-station rail project has officially broken ground. (Examiner)

Maryland's newest toll road opens to traffic today. "The full cost of the Intercounty Connector - the exchange of woodlands for asphalt; the effects on residents along its path; debt payments that could require raising tolls throughout the state - will be analyzed for years. The immediate question is how opening the first 7.2 miles will affect traffic." (Washington Post)

Higher oil prices send airline fares up. (Dallas Morning News)

NJ Transit riders issue a collective exhale after Governor Christie's budget address yesterday. (Asbury Park Press)

DC's Metro Transit Police Department says that thefts of electronic devices accounted for 76% of all robberies on the Metro in 2010 (Washington Post). So they've created a helpful PSA:

The Brooklyn Paper says that ambulances are no strangers to the Prospect Park West bike lane.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has yet to name the state's top transportation official, but already he has installed the agency's chief of staff, hired its lawyer and pulled the trigger on a major decision to blow up plans for high-speed rail. (St. Petersburg Times)

The Massachusetts woman who lost her boa constrictor on a Boston subway car has been hit with a $650 cleaning bill by the MBTA, which had to "sanitize" the car. (Boston Herald)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: NJ Governor Christie's budget increases transpo funding. Controversy continues over whether a new ring road for Houston is a must -- or a road to nowhere. And opponents of the Prospect Park West bike lane don't want new bike lanes, anywhere in the city.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: DOT Doesn't Like Mica HSR Plan, Israel Lowers Transit Fares, and Some Cities Get On Board With A "Crash Tax"

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Department of Transportation doesn't like Congressman Mica's plan to scale back Florida's high-speed rail. (Miami Herald)

A New York Times editorial accuses some federal fund-rejecting governors of trying to "keep up with the Christies."

Census data shows that Chicago's central core gained population over the past decade, while outlying neighborhoods lost. (Chicago Tribune)

Some communities are imposing a "crash tax" -- a fee for services -- after car accidents. (Marketplace)

Israel's cabinet lower bus and rail fares and increase subsidies in an effort to encourage the use of public transportation as an alternative to private vehicles. “This will greatly benefit society,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. “Who uses public transportation?  Not the people in the top decile, but rather those without means and those who want to, and can, use buses and trains, as well as whole groups of people who want to avoid traffic jams while entering cities.  We want to encourage this." (Jerusalem Post)

The NY Daily News's Pete Donohue says the MTA knew it needed better snow-thrower cars two years ago -- but "relies in part on a bunch of deafening relics" to clear the tracks.

The Star-Ledger profiles Jim Weinstein, the head of NJ Transit, and previews the "balanced scorecard" the agency plans to release this summer detailing on-time performance, employee safety, financial stability and customer service.

Snow day tweet, courtesy of Newark Mayor Cory Booker: "Snow Snow get out of here/ Leave my city alone until Jan of next year/ Snow Snow I want rain instead/Cause of u my budget is heading 2 red"

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: John Mica proposes a plan to save Florida's high-speed rail, after Rick Scott's rejection of the program leaves bidders perplexed. DC's new mayor slams his predecessor over transportation. And: do more cyclists mean safer streets?

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Mica's Plan to Save Florida's High-Speed Rail Cuts Out Tampa -- And Possibly The Governor

Saturday, February 19, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation)  With a week to save Florida's high-speed rail program, Florida congressman (and House Transportation Committee chair) John Mica is spending his President's Day weekend floating a plan that would shrink the project down to a 21 mile line linking the Orlando airport to Disney World.

Mica says this smaller program has the best chance of attracting riders and making a profit.  It would also transfer "the project from the state to another entity."

Read Mica's proposal here or after the jump.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Florida High Speed Rail Bidders Frustrated, Perplexed

Friday, February 18, 2011

A conceptual rendering of a Florida high-speed rail station (from presentation by the Florida Statewide Passenger Rail Commission)

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation)  When Governor Rick Scott (R) announced this week that he planned to return $2.4 billion in federal grant money for a proposed High Speed Rail line that had already been three decades in the making, many were shocked. A bipartisan group of Floridian Congresspeople—including the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chair John Mica (R-Fla.)—was almost literally falling over itself with consternation at a press conference yesterday as they announced an emergency effort to keep the funds in Florida.

To one member of the Florida Mobility Partners—one consortium that had expressed interest in building Florida’s high speed rail line—the announcement was downright disturbing. “What does [the Governor] have to lose?” Nora Friend, the Vice President of Public Affairs and Business Development at the Spanish rail company Talgo asked, when I reach her by phone today. “To allow all of these strong companies and

concessionaires to do their own diligence and to come and see if they could make it work? What would the state lose?”

Indeed, Scott’s decision came at a highly disorienting moment for prospective bidders. At least eight teams had assembled and were anxious for the state to issue its formal Request for Qualifications. The RFQ was drafted late last year and, according to Friend, bidders were expecting its formal issue within a month.

The state was clear in its hope that the eventual public-private partnership would be a DBOM&F (Design-Build-Operate-Maintain-and-Finance) arrangement. As such, to be eligible, each consortium bidding would have had to present a financing plan as part of their initial proposal. At a hearing in November, Friend said, her consortium had gone on the record as saying they were confident they would be willing to accept the risk of construction costs, currently estimated at $280 million (or roughly 10 percent of the total cost). This, of course, is the very risk from which the Governor wanted to save Florida taxpayers.

Friend wasn't willing to guarantee anything—the due diligence wasn't done, and bidders don't like to show too many cards—but she felt that with the strength of tourism (Disney) and the chance to extend the line to Miami, the project looked healthy and doable. "We feel that the project warrants the risk, with the expectations for the second segment to Miami," she said. "Unfortunately this is the third time around for Florida. It’s unfortunate for the United States because we are lagging behind so terribly because of politics. All these partisan issues, and in this country they choose, unfortunately, rail as one of those very contentious partisan issues. And we think it’s just terrible. If we don’t assume some risk and launch at least a first initial project that can be successful, the rest is not going to come."

"You can tell I'm frustrated," Friend apologized. And with good reason: Talgo suffered similar disappointment last year when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) returned Wisconsin's share of HSR stimulus money just months after the company opened a rail car factory in Milwaukee. "It seems like wherever we go, they’re returning all these ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funds," Friend said. "We basically did everything the administration was hoping for—to attract companies and technologies, to transfer this know-how to the United States."  The Milwaukee facility is making four trains, two for the Hiawatha line and two for the Cascades line between Seattle and Portland. "We’re going to be forced to shut down the manufacturing part of the facility after we deliver those four trains in early 2012."

Friend believes that it's time for the Florida State Legislature, the DOT, and the people of Florida to speak up in favor of the plan.  She's obviously watching closely to see what fruit current negotiations bear. "We are hopeful that Secretary LaHood is not going to rush, like the U.S. DOT did to take away the funds from Wisconsin and Ohio. We hope that they’ll try to figure out how to make it work. We are very—I'm not sure how to say this politely—disheartened may be a good word—about this governor’s decision of returning the funds and not going ahead with the project, without any proof to validate his concerns."

“The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits,” the governor said in making the announcement earlier this week. “President Obama’s high-speed rail program is not the answer to Florida’s economic recovery.”

Transportation Nation posted Scott's speech where he laid out his reasons for the decision.

Even if Secretary LaHood, Senator Nelson, and others find a legal, willing place to park $2.4 billion, the path forward relies on Governor Scott's cooperation. But there's only one way to find out who's right and who's wrong about whether the private sector is willing to bear the risk in building high speed rail: let the bid process move forward. And let the consortia place their bids.

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

California: Florida's HSR Loss Could Be Our Gain

Thursday, February 17, 2011

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) If U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is unable to put together a deal to save Florida's high speed rail, California wants the $2.4. billion.  And California is likely to get a bunch if it if the Florida deal falls through: it has the most advanced program, after Florida, in the nation.

Governor Jerry Brown and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have already issued statements similar to those released after Wisconsin and Ohio returned their funds. "It is now clear that California will lead the way in demonstrating the viability of high speed rail to the rest of the country," wrote the senators; "The $2 billion that Florida rejected are more than welcome here," said Brown.

At least one congressman has also gotten in on the action; John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek) wrote "we’re prepared to show the rest of the country what a modern transportation network looks like and will gladly invest every penny the federal government is willing to provide."

The politicians' statements get at the curious paradox of high-speed rail in this country: the more states reject high-speed rail because of perceived political and financial risk, the better the chance that the systems that do get funded will have the resources to avoid those problems. "The money reallocated to us from Ohio and Wisconsin enabled us to double the length of our initial construction," said California High Speed Rail Authority spokeswoman Rachel Wall. "We know how to use this money." Wall said the Authority is currently in discussions with the Federal Railroad Administration about whether and how California would obtain the funds.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

Read More

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

White House: High-Speed Rail Was Heavily Oversubscribed

Thursday, February 17, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) In his second press conference as White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney fielded a number of questions about Bahrain, the economy -- and high-speed rail.

When asked about how Florida's rejection of high-speed rail money would impact the Obama Administration's infrastructure plans, Carney said:

"Well, our support for these plans -- the President could not have been clearer in the State of the Union about the absolute importance of investing in infrastructure in order to allow us to compete and win the future in the 21st century.  The decisions by individual states are the decisions they can certainly make.

We don’t support those decisions because we think it’s harmful to the economic growth of those states.  And certainly there are other states that are eager to participate in these programs.  I know that the high-speed rail, in particular, was heavily oversubscribed in terms of the states that wanted to participate."

Here's a transcript of the exchange:

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

U.S. Senator Nelson's Office: Florida Planning Organization Wants to Take Over High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

From Florida Senator Bill Nelson's office:

"Officials now studying ways to help Florida, despite governor’s rejection of federal money for high-speed rail.  Today:

"Ø  A metropolitan planning organization in Tampa and a rail authority in South Florida have volunteered to step forward in place of the state to accept oversight of the bullet-train project and the $2.4 billion from Uncle Sam.  Lawyers are researching how to do it.

"Ø  At 1:30 p.m., U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson will meet on the plan in Washington with the federal transportation secretary and members of Florida’s congressional delegation."

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

WMFE: LaHood and U.S. Senator Nelson Looking to Restore Florida High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On our partner The Takeaway this morning, Mark Simpson of our newest partner, WMFE in Orlando, reports:

"Readers of the tea leaves might have been able to anticipate this was coming. Last week Governor Scott was speaking with Wisconsin Governor Walker Scott who also rejected high speed rail money.  So you might have been able to anticipate this was coming up soon, but still it really did rock the Florida political establishment.

"But I wonder whether it really is dead, because you've already seen U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood working on just finding out if there is a legal work-around to still do this project without state participation."

Here's video of Nelson, who says "We are exploring how we could keep this project going forward since the state of Florida will not participate."

Simpson added:  "Rick Scott has kind of seen his base become the Tea Party in Florida.  When he unveiled his budget just a few weeks ago he didn't do it in the capitol Tallahassee, where all the establishment legislators could come hear the announcement, instead he went to a small town north of Orlando with a hand-picked crowd of Tea Party supporters to unveil the budget, kind of disavowing the Republican establishment that's been ruling Florida for a good long time. "

Listen to the Takeaway segment below.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

Read More

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: NYC Council Votes To Improve Bike, Pedestrian Crash Data, Toronto Wants Private $ For Subway, and What's HSR's Future Looking Like?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Now that Florida's governor has 'pulled a Christie,' what does that mean for the future of the country's high speed rail program? (The Takeaway)

Good time for an ominous Ray LaHood tweet: "We have choices to make—not between left and right, but between forward and backward."

New York's City Council unanimously passed a suite of bills that will require police to provide monthly reports of traffic accidents and summonses -- as well as require the city's Department of Transportation begin annual reporting on the number of bike and pedestrian crashes broken down by police precincts. (WNYC)

Toronto's mayor is seeking private money to extend that city's subway. (Toronto Star)

The head of the influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce threw his support Wednesday behind Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's proposal to speed the building of local transportation projects. (Los Angeles Times)

The Bay Area's transportation funding agency doesn't discriminate against minorities by steering state and federal dollars to trains instead of buses, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday in dismissing a suit by AC Transit riders. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Should we focus on mass transit ...or mass transit AND road improvements? Maryland's Montgomery County Council can't decide. (The Gazette)

A NYC bus driver quizzes his passengers -- then leads the bus in song. The M86 has never been this much fun. (via NYC The Blog)

NY's MTA Board's committees will meet throughout the day today, starting at 8:30 a.m. Watch the meetings live: http://bit.ly/mtawebcast

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: High speed rail will not come to Disneyworld.  Or will it? And: New Jersey lawmakers present a united front in opposition to repaying feds for cancelled ARC tunnel, while Houston METRO gets a refund from a Spanish rail car supplier.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

High Speed Rail Will Not Come To Disneyworld

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sadiqa Muqaddam had been hoping for work on the high speed rail line

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) When I was in Tampa before last November's election, I met a man named Sadiqa Muqaddam.  Muqaddam told me he'd found his first job as an iron worker building ships in Pascagoula Mississippi.  "You know," he told me, "this is what I went to school for.  When I was coming up, I was taught by my people, the only way for you to have something in America, is for education."

For half a century, Muqaddam said, there was more work than he could handle. "One day I was going all over the state of Florida. I was working out of Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, everywhere, I was everywhere, you know? And now, when I look around, there’s no jobs. There’s no jobs.” In the last year, Muqaddam lost his home. “I’m renting, now I’m back renting. Before I used to own. I’m used to walking in my three bedroom house, two cars, my little Chihuahua. I don’t have that no more. Even my dog died. Lost my cars, everything.”

But there was one thing that Muqaddam was thinking about -- a bullet train from Tampa to Orlando.  "That right there would give me work. I fall in that category, of messing with iron, steel, whatever." But there will be no high speed rail line in Florida.

Saying "the risk far outweighs the benefits," Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican elected last November, called  U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Wednesday morning. Scott said he would be rejecting $2.4 billion in federal funds for high speed rail. This makes him the third Republican Governor to do so, after Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio. But those projects were far less significant than the Florida plan, which was to be the first fully functioning true high-speed rail anywhere in the Americas.

This was to be a marquee project for the Obama administration, so important that the President announced his high speed rail program in January 2010.  It was going to stop at Disneyworld -- something that cheered planners, who figured happy tourists would ride the high speed rail, and then carry its banner back to their home districts.

Florida's Planned High Speed Rail Route

The Florida project had all the land it needed along the I-4 corridor. It had almost all the funding. But it did not have the political support of Republican Governor Rick Scott, and in the end, that's what mattered.  Scott said Wednesday:

  • "The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits."
  • "Historical data shows [sic] capital cost overruns are pervasive in nine out of 10 high speed rail projects and that two-thirds of those projects inflated ridership projections by an average of 65 percent of actual patronage.
  • "It is projected that 3.07 million people will use the train annually.  Keep in mind that Amtrak’s Acela train in Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore only had 3.2 million riders in 2010. And that market’s population is eight times the size of the Tampa/Orlando market.
  • "President Obama’s high-speed rail program is not the answer to Florida’s economic recovery."

Scott's announcement comes just a week after Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Philadelphia to announce an Administration push for $53 billion for high speed rail funding over the next six years. President Barack Obama has made high speed rail a signature initiative of his administration. But his goal, announced with some fanfare in his State of the Union address last month, to link 80 percent of Americans to high speed rail by 2036, has suffered a significant setback with the Florida cancellation.

Neither the President's nor the Vice President's office would comment on the political ramifications of Scott's action, instead referring us to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood's statement:

“We are extremely disappointed by Governor Rick Scott’s decision to walk away from the job creating and economic development benefits of high speed rail in Florida. We worked with the governor to make sure we eliminated all financial risk for the state, instead requiring private businesses competing for the project to assume cost overruns and operating expenses. It is projects like these that will help America out-build our global competitors and lay the foundation needed to win the future. This project could have supported thousands of good-paying jobs for Floridians and helped grow Florida businesses, all while alleviating congestion on Florida’s highways. Nevertheless, there is overwhelming demand for high speed rail in other states that are enthusiastic to receive Florida’s funding and the economic benefits it can deliver, such as manufacturing and construction jobs, as well as private development along its corridors.”

But Petra Todorovich, the head of America 2050, and a general optimist about the future of high speed rail in the U.S., isn't so sure. "The funds will be distributed," she noted (Florida itself had been a beneficiary when newly-elected Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker sent back his state's high speed rail money), most likely to California, which already has some $12 billion in funding for its San Francisco to L.A. high speed rail.

But, she said in a phone interview, "It becomes much trickier now. The next project on line is California. It becomes much larger, much more complicated, much farther away.  This could set high speed rail back years, even decades."

In a poll released earlier this week, the Rockefeller Foundation (full disclosure, they support Transportation Nation) found that 71 percent of Americans agreed that "building a high speed rail system in the U.S. will be a benefit to travelers and to the U.S. economy."   Sixty-seven percent of independents, 56 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of tea party affiliates agreed.

But that doesn't mean Scott and other Republican governors haven't tapped into unease about how to pay for big programs like this, or what seems to weigh heavily on voters minds: whether the government should be spending at all on big projects just now.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was the first to curtail a big infrastructure project,  when last October he sent three billion dollars back to the federal government that was to have been spent on a transit tunnel under the Hudson River.  It would have been the largest transit project in the nation.  Christie said NJ's portion of the bill -- another 2.7 billion --- could run too high, with cost overruns

Gov Christie, whose name is widely bandied about as a GOP presidential candidate, either in 2012, or 2016 is repeating his wariness of spending on big infrastructure projects like a mantra, and each time he does so, he becomes more full-throated (video) "I look at what is happening in Washington DC right now and I'm worried," Christie told the American Enterprise Institute Wednesday.

He continued "[The President] says the big things are high speed rail. The big things are high speed internet access for almost  80 percent of America,  or something,  by some date.  A million electric cars by some date.  Ladies and gentlemen, that is the candy of American politics.

"Those are not the big things, because let me guarantee you something:  if we don't fix the real big things there's going to be no electric cars on the road. There's going to be no high speed internet access -- or if there is you're not going to be able to afford to get on it. We're not going to be able to care about the niceties of life, the 'investments' that Washington wants to continue to make."

"This really was a world class high speed rail system," lamented Petra Todorvich, of Building America's Future. "It defies logic why a governor would kill a project like this -- private investors were just chomping at the bit. If the concerns were overruns, those questions could have been answered," she said.  "A deal could have been structured where the private sector took the risk."

Private sector firms certainly were coming forward, spending big money on lobbying campaigns. Everyone wanted to be able to build the first high-speed rail line in America.

In a sit-down interview in his headquarters in New York's Empire State Building, Mike McNally, CEO of  Skanska USA told me that Skanska was dying to take over big projects like high speed rail in Florida.  But he was worried about the signals some Governors are sending by canceling big projects after they began.  "The private sector can't, we don't operate that way. We're here to do what the governments -- they're our customers -- we want to do what they want to do. We need to know what they want to do and these are not short term decisions, these are long term commitments. You just can't keep changing every two fears or nothing's going to happen.

Even Republicans who've expressed reservations about the Tampa to Orlando line (it' was short, it had many stops, neither Tampa nor Orlando has much of a real downtown or a transit system to shuttle passengers to high speed rail) like John Mica, the Chair of the House Transportation Committee expressed regret at Scott's decision.

"I am deeply disappointed in the decision to not move forward with the Orlando to Tampa passenger rail project," Mica said in a statement. "This is a huge setback for the state of Florida, our transportation, economic development, and important tourism industry.''

Politicians from other states are already putting their hats in the ring to collect the money Florida just turned away. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York was one of them. He said, "Florida’s loss should be New York’s gain. Other states may not be ready to unlock the potential of high speed rail, but it 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.”

But the sentiment of doubt about paying more taxes for anything remains real, and widespread.  Even people like unemployed iron worker Muqaddam have hesitations. When I went to Florida last fall, I was there to investigate how voters felt about a sales tax to fund a local light rail, another big transportation project.  I asked Muqaddam about that.  Initially, he was pretty sure he was against it. "We don’t have -- It’s just like you’re taking, you know, we ain’t got.  And then the little bit we do got, you’re taking, you know?”

A sentiment Rick Scott is speaking to.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

Read More

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

Ray LaHood: I'm Disappointed FL Rejected HSR Money -- But Other States Will Benefit

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) DOT secretary Ray LaHood is not happy about Florida governor Rick Scott's decision to reject federal funding for high speed rail. His office issued the following statement this morning:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Statement on Florida Governor Scott’s Decision to Decline High-Speed Rail Dollars

WASHINGTON U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today made the following statement regarding Florida Governor Rick Scott’s decision to decline high-speed rail dollars.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood: “We are extremely disappointed by Governor Rick Scott’s decision to walk away from the job creating and economic development benefits of high speed rail in Florida. We worked with the governor to make sure we eliminated all financial risk for the state, instead requiring private businesses competing for the project to assume cost overruns and operating expenses. It is projects like these that will help America out-build our global competitors and lay the foundation needed to win the future. This project could have supported thousands of good-paying jobs for Floridians and helped grow Florida businesses, all while alleviating congestion on Florida’s highways. Nevertheless, there is overwhelming demand for high speed rail in other states that are enthusiastic to receive Florida’s funding and the economic benefits it can deliver, such as manufacturing and construction jobs, as well as private development along its corridors.”

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Rick Scott Rejects $2.4 Billion for High-Speed Rail

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) Florida Governor Rick Scott just announced that he's rejecting $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for  high-speed rail link connecting Orlando to Tampa.

"The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits," the governor said. "President Obama’s high-speed rail program is not the answer to Florida’s economic recovery."

You can read his prepared remarks here. There's a story about this in the Orlando Sentinel here.

More as we learn it.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Video: Rick Scott Ends Florida's High-Speed Rail Plan

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Here's the press conference where Florida Governor Rick Scott announced his decision to cancel Florida's high-speed rail plan.
Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

Obama: 80 Percent of Americans Should Have Access to High Speed Rail By 2036

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama is calling for what aids are calling "an upfront investment" in 2011 so that by 2036, eighty percent of Americans have access to high speed rail. That would mean high speed rail lines connecting, more or less, Tampa to Orlando, San Francisco to Southern California, Boston to Washington,  Chicago to Milwaukee, St. Louis to Detroit, and Portland to Seattle, at a cost to exceed -- conservatively -- $100 billion.

Right now, no Americans have access to high speed rail.  The administration has invested $10 billion to date. China has spent at least half a trillion dollars.

"America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities and constructed the interstate highway system," according to prepared remarks distributed by the White House. "The jobs created by these projects didn't just come from laying down tracks or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town's new train station or the new off-ramp.

"Within 25 years our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high speed rail which could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car," the President said. "For some trips it will be faster than flying -- without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway."

A year ago, the President also spoke of high speed rail in his State of the Union.  The next day, he flew to Tampa  to announce that city's high speed rail project would be one of main recipients of high speed rail grants. At the time, it seemed a deft move by the President -- he got to travel to a purple state and announce a big, future-looking infrastructure project. It seemed to be a win-win.

But in the past year, high speed rail has become a considerably murkier political issue. Scott Walker, running for Governor of Wisconsin, explicitly campaigned against high speed rail in a television commercial, and set up a website notrain.com. His explicit theme: "their" rail would drain money from "our" roads.  Walker won handily.  In Ohio, John Kasich promised in a debate that he'd send $400 million  for high speed rail back to Washington. He is now the governor of Ohio.   And in Florida, Governor Rick Scott, who just took over from Charlie Crist, has said he'd only support that state's high speed rail if Florida taxpayers don't have to pay.  That project is one of the farthest along in the country, and the Tampa-Orlando route is expected to be among the first that's up and running.

But Obama is pressing ahead, with advisors heavily hinting he'd be talking about infrastructure for several days as a way to invest in jobs and the future of the American economy.  Meanwhile, the administration was brushing off naysayers.  At a Washington, DC conference for transportation professionals, Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari said "he's optimistic" that Americans will embrace the idea of infrastructure investment if it's adequately explained.

And Joe Szabo, the Federal Rail Administrator, was even more animated when Transportation Nation asked him about the mixed political reception to high-speed rail in the last year. "It's about quality of life for Americans. There' s going to be 70 million more people in the United States in the next 25 years, the vast majority of those concentrated in the megaregions. To the critics I would ask 'what's your plan?  How do you plan to move 70 million more people. How do you plan to do it while reducing congestion, reducing fuel consumption, and improving air quality?'"

President Obama has been completely consistent on this issue -- supporting high speed rail spending in his campaign, supporting it in the stimulus bill, (in fact,Rahm Emmanuel, now running for Mayor of Chicago, pushed high speed rail spending from $1-2 billion to $8 billion in the wee hours of the morning before the bill was announced,) emphasizing it at the outset of the 2010 campaign season with a Labor Day plan to spend $50 billion on roads, rails, and airports, and then inviting guests to the White House on Columbus Day to emphasize the plan. Even as the public reacted with a shrug, the President kept touting the plan.

Supporters of high speed rail hailed the President's remark. US PIRG said it would "revolutionize" transportation the way the interstate highway system had.  But there was measured optimism. "We need to need to figure out a way to pay for it," said Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Puentes said funding for the project may come from "untraditional" sources. "We have an 8 billion down payment plus 2 billion that came in the budget. That' s a fraction of what we'll need."

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.


Read More

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

New GOP Party Chief Not a High Speed Rail Fan

Friday, January 14, 2011

Reince Priebus, Newly Elected RNC Chairman (Getty Images)

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  The new head of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus,  is no fan of high speed rail.  Priebus, who's been serving as Chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party, worked strenuously for the election of Governor Scott Walker of of Wisconsin, who recently returned some $810 million in high speed rail stimulus funding to the federal government. U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood redistributed the money to other projects -- mostly to California and Florida, who are actively working on rail systems.

Scott was the most vehement foe of high speed rail in the 2010 election cycle, setting up a anti-high speed rail website, notrain.com, and mocking rail investment in an "our roads" versus "their rail" television commercial.

Priebus wasn't as vocal in his opposition, but he did mock the project in this July tweet:

"Wis Dems & WH are pushing an unpopular high-speed rail that the state can't afford before Republicans can stop it. http://bit.ly/bpm21I"

National Republicans are showing little appetite for spending on big projects.  In addition to Walker, NJ Governor Chris Christie recently killed a $9 billion commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River, and Florida Governor Rick Scott expressed queasiness over spending any state money on a Tampa to Orlando high speed rail line, now backed with $3 billion in federal funds.

But Priebus hasn't exactly made opposition to high speed rail a central issue, and it remains to be seen whether such opposition finds its way into national GOP politics.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: NJ Transit's "Quiet Car" Program Spurs Not-So-Quiet Debate, and Has London "Misjudged Bike Demand?"

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bicyclists in Dubai (Danny McL/Flickr)

The Star-Ledger's editorial board is not loving New Jersey Governor Christie's transportation plan, which they describe as a short-sighted "money grab — all to protect his image on the gas tax."

Speaking of the Garden State, NJ Transit's recently expanded "quiet car" program is experiencing some growing pains, like hearty debates over the difference between "silent" and "merely quiet." (New York Times)

Police in Fairfax, Virginia, are cracking down on distracted driving -- and say there's been a 45% decrease in fatal crashes and a 42% decrease in all crashes. (WAMU)

Bike sharing comes to Dubai -- along with a plan to build 900 km of bike tracks (lanes) by the year 2020 (Khaleej Times).

$500 million subway "boondoggle?" The New York Post says that more than a decade after the MTA pledged to transform the subway data network, the equipment is still busted and the multimillion-dollar price tag is growing.

Is London "a rather unpleasant place for cyclists?" That's the assertion made by an article in The Economist, which says London may have "fundamentally misjudged the nature of bike demand." “There has never been a shortage of bikes in London,” says one transport economist. “It’s just that people are afraid to use them.

Florida Governor Rick Scott met with Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara at the Capitol to discuss trade -- and high-speed rail. (AP via the Miami Herald)

The New York Times profiled that friend to bicyclists, Denver mayor -- now Colorado's governor-elect -- John Hickenlooper.

California's new drivers' licenses are so complicated to produce that "up to 80% of some batches have had errors, forcing tens of thousands of motorists to wait as long as six weeks, rather than a few days, to get their cards." (Los Angeles Times)

Best Buy will sell 240-volt home charging stations for Ford's 2012 electric Focus. (Fast Company)

Supporters rally to save Toronto's Transit City; city councillor says “Transit City is a lot more than a transit plan, it’s a city-building exercise." (Toronto Star)

Stripping for public transit? Sunday was the 10th annual No Pants Subway Ride, an "international celebration of silliness."  (Good Magazine)

Read More

Comment