The guy who dashed the nation's first true high speed rail connection in the country between Tampa and Orlando made headlines today by being the guy who is now in fact facilitating high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando.
In a nutshell, Governor Rick Scott, in what some are regarding as an expense-free political ploy, is now behind efforts to let a private company build a line. The argument being made for this about-face is that unlike the package he killed upon taking office in 2011, he is backing a private industry approach, similar to the Brightline model currently under construction on Florida's eastern coast.
Here's the key gist from Scott's posted announcement.
Governor Scott said, “This is an exciting opportunity for Orlando, Tampa and our entire state. When I became Governor, the Obama administration was trying to use federal taxpayer dollars to pay for a rail connection that had an extremely high risk of overspending taxpayer dollars with no guarantee of economic growth. This is exactly what we’re seeing in California, a state which took this bad deal from Obama, and in Connecticut where taxpayers had to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars for their rail line. Instead of placing taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, our goal is for the private sector to invest in this project. Through private investment, we ensure that this major project has zero financial risk to Florida taxpayers.”
Personally I much appreciate this attitude - however six years later - that if you're going to cling to an ideological premise (even if I'm sure it's nuts), at least provide a solution by the ideological premise for what anyone otherwise agrees is a good thing. If Scott and his administration were really so foiled by the idea of a federally funded rail system, then it makes good sense to me that they welcome a system built within the private framework they so religously believe in.
I mean, the original rejection was still bat-shit crazy, and, seemingly reliant on "theories" of failure that flew in the face of studies about ridership at the time, not to mention the ultimate responsibility in the event of overruns (which were always to be on the private builders, much as they will be for any private company that builds today). The decision to not build had all the evidence of being pure politics then, just as the decision to build now does.
But really, if it means a rail terminus in Tampa at long last, Tampa Rail will not quibble. I've always known that political wind defines the rise and fall of these systems and long-time readers of TR in past iterations know that I've always preached a "holding out" strategy specifically in the event something like today's developments come to be. No effort to kill progress on transit rail, light, high speed, or otherwise, should ever be taken as permanent.
If I'm piecing the reports together right, the genesis of this renewed opportunity has to do with the reception of an "unsolicited proposal" from a private company seeking to use the same I-4 corridor that was put aside for the original federally funded project in 2011. It's this solicitation that serves to activate the entire process of high-speed-rail-procurement by the Florida Department of Transportation. And part of that activation is to open up bidding for 120 days for potential HSR builders to provide their proposals.
TampaBay.com is reporting that the opening activation bidder is in fact none other than Brightline, the nation's first private transportation rail operator in something like 100 years or so who, as mentioned above, is working on that new system on Florida's east coast. Brightline has long been on record indicating their ambition to include Tampa and Orlando in their evolving network (note the blurb near the end of this article) so this should be no surprise to anyone.