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Rod Thomson
Siesta Key Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011 3 years ago

My View: Gov. Scott was right on high-speed rail

by: Rod Thomson Editor-at-Large

The above is a headline you will never read in your mainstream newspapers as they pursue every conceivable — and some inconceivable — negative story line while ignoring others to discredit a governor they do not like.

Scott was right to dump the high-speed rail, as ensuing events are making plain.

The feds promised — with tax dollars — to fund the capital costs of the 84-mile line of $2.4 billion. The state would have to pick up anything over that, but that was the estimated cost. Scott was skeptical, for good reason. Plus, he realized that low ridership would mean the state would have to subsidize the line every year, taking money away from other transportation projects.

So in February he said, no thanks. You’d think he had ordered the death of all firstborns. The media, unions, Democrats and some Republicans were apoplectic that he had turned away federal stimulus money that would have created construction jobs and helped save the Earth just to appease tea-party extremists.

Here is how the St. Petersburg Times’ Tallahassee bureau reported it in the paper’s Feb. 17 news story:
“Never mind that the federal government was willing to pay nearly all the cost to build a high-speed rail line connecting Tampa to Orlando.

“Never mind that private companies were willing to cover any additional construction costs and operating losses.

“Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday rejected the federal government’s offer of $2.4 billion to build the line — prompting cheers from his tea-party base and harsh criticism from leading Florida Republicans and Democrats — squashing a project that has been decades in the making.”

But let’s look at the evidence since Scott’s crazy, thoughtless, job-killing, knee-jerk, tea-party-pleasing decision.

• Governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and New Jersey also rejected federal funds because they were looking at the same financial realities as Scott, not the pie-in-the-sky transit Utopia that consumes the media.

• California is heading for a high-speed train wreck with its Los Angeles to San Francisco route. It was originally set to cost $43 billion, and three years later, before construction has even started, the cost has risen to $67 billion. It now may reach $100 billion, with no additional funding seen. There is general acknowledgment that ridership was overestimated (it always is). And lawsuits are flying everywhere. A recent poll found more than 62% of Californians now want the whole thing stopped.

• China has aggressively scaled back its ambitious high-speed rail, and Brazil has canceled plans for its Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paulo line.

• Even the U.S. Department of Transportation has sharply revised its high-speed expectations downward, now longing for small, incremental, long-term changes and dropping the idea that 80% of Americans will have access.

• And finally, Congress has pulled the plug on funding. Not just Republicans, who in the House allocated nothing for high-speed rail. Even the Democrat-controlled Senate only approved a token $100 million (about 1/100th of recent allocations.)

The entire high-speed rail industry is in disrepute because no one believes either their cost or ridership estimates. California is the norm, not the exception.

The concept is just not American — geographically, that is. This is a continent-sized country, with huge distances between cities. That makes air travel the better transportation mode. France and Japan, which are the countries that have even moderate success with high-speed transit, are small countries with cities close together. Even then, most of their lines are subsidized.

The reality, which was clear to Scott in February, is that high-speed rail will not work in Florida. If it can ever work anywhere in the reasonably near future, it is in the densely populated Northeast corridor.

A high-speed bullet train between Tampa and Orlando was always going to be a boondoggle, and may well not even have been built after wasting millions of dollars.

So while Gov. Scott appeared to be out of the mainstream, it turns out he was leading the way. The media, Democrats, unions, some Republicans and President Obama, who all piled on against him, were wrong.

Rod Thomson can be reached at [email protected].


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