Huffpost Politics

Florida Loses $2.4 Billion For High-Speed Trains

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RICK SCOTT SUNRAIL COMMUTER TRAIN

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has taken back the $2.4 billion allocated to Florida for high-speed trains and is inviting other states to apply for the money, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Friday.

The project, which would have connected Tampa and Orlando with high-speed trains, was rejected by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican. He said he didn't want to obligate the state to pay for what could be expensive operating costs for the line.

However, the Florida Department of Transportation on Wednesday released a study showing the line connecting Tampa to Orlando would have had an operating surplus in 2015, its first year of operation.

It's still possible for Florida supporters of the project to reapply for the funds without state help if they create a regional transit authority working in conjunction with Amtrak or another established transportation authority. However, they would have to work swiftly to meet the Transportation Department's April 4 deadline for applications, a very tight window for such a complex undertaking.

"Hope is alive for thousands of good-paying jobs and a modernized transportation system," Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a supporter of the project, said in a statement.

Several states, including New York, Virginia, Vermont, Delaware and Rhode Island, have asked LaHood for Florida's rail funds. But the only project that would achieve the high speeds associated with bullet trains in Asia and Europe would be California's plan for trains traveling up to 220 mph between San Francisco and Los Angeles and between Sacramento and San Francisco.

"States across the country have been banging down our door for the opportunity to receive additional high-speed rail dollars and to deliver all of its economic benefits to their citizens," LaHood said in a statement.

Scott's decision was challenged by supporters of the project, but last week the state Supreme Court upheld his right to reject the money.

Scott is the third Republican governor elected in November to kill rail projects approved by his predecessor. Governors in Wisconsin and Ohio also turned down funds previously agreed to by their Democratic predecessors. In Florida, the money had been accepted by Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist, who lost a Senate race last year.

President Barack Obama has sought to make a national network of high-speed trains a signature project of his administration. In his state of the union speech in January, Obama said he wants to provide 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed trains within 25 years.

However, the rejections by three governors and opposition to high-speed rail by House Republicans has left the program's future in doubt.

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