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- 2011 - February - 17th -

Feds, lawmakers regroup after Scott slams brakes on rail

by Keith Laing
The News Service of Florida

Federal officials and state lawmakers plotted an uncertain path to revive high-speed rail in Florida Wednesday after Gov. Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion that was on the table for a Tampa-to-Orlando bullet train.

Scott joined newly elected Republican governors in two other states in rebuffing President Barack Obama’s effort to build a nationwide network of trains, leaving U.S. House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica of Orlando looking for a plan B.

“We haven’t raised the white flag of surrender on the project,” Mica said in a conference call. “We’re going to explore every option, the secretary (of transportation) said he would review all of his options. But at this particular point, quite frankly I don’t know what they are.”

The bewilderment ran from the nation’s capital to Tallahassee, when Democrats and quite a few of Scott’s fellow ruling Republicans fumed that the new governor had left them in the dark in his decision to turn out the lights on the long-sought high-speed rail project.

The chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Jack Latvala, said that he spoke with Scott Wednesday, at the governor’s request, and he was not informed of the decision.

“I didn’t get any notice of it,” a clearly disappointed Latvala (R-St. Petersburg) told the News Service of Florida.

“I’m disappointed because I was in his office discussing transportation issues and I had no idea this was coming nor did he ask for my opinion.”

Like Mica, Latvala said the Legislature would explore its options for reviving the off-again, on-again, off-again train, though he said Scott was within his right to reject the money.

“The implementation is in the department (of transportation),” he said. “We appropriated about $300 million for the project. He can choose not to spend it.”

Though governors in Wisconsin and Ohio made splashy announcements when they rejected rail money shortly after winning office in November, neither of those states were offered 90 percent of the projected cost of their proposed trains like Florida was for its Tampa to Orlando line.

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