High-speed rail is profitable, Department of Transportation study says.


High-speed rail is profitable, study says

A study shows that high-speed rail from Tampa to Orlando — a proposal Gov. Rick Scott rejected — could be operated with a healthy profit.

BY JANET ZINK

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Three weeks after Gov. Rick Scott put the brakes on high-speed rail, the Florida Department of Transportation on Wednesday released a study showing the line connecting Tampa to Orlando would have had a $10.2 million operating surplus in 2015, its first year of operation.

The study showed the line would have had a $28.6 million surplus in its 10th year.

The numbers are more optimistic than a 2009 study, which concluded the line would have not seen an operating surplus until 2021.

The $1.3 million study, conducted by the forecasting firms Wilbur Smith Associates and Steer Davies Gleave, shows the line would have had 3.3 million riders in its first year. The previous analysis predicted the line would have had 2.4 million riders in 2015.

Scott, who last month cited concerns about operating losses due to low ridership when he decided to kill construction of the project by rejecting $2.4 billion in federal money, dismissed the ridership study results.

“I had been briefed on their ridership study and I looked at other ridership studies and I’m still very comfortable with the decision I made that I don’t want the taxpayers of the state on the hook for the cost overruns of building it, the operating costs or giving the money back if it’s shut down,” he said.

He said he made the decision based on a verbal review of the ridership study, as well as documents provided by the Libertarian Reason Foundation and the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Scott said he feared the 84-mile line would be a burden to Florida taxpayers, even though private vendors had indicated they would be willing to cover any operating losses or construction cost overruns, and federal officials said Florida would not have to repay the $2.4 billion if the project failed.

A spokeswoman for Scott said he doesn’t trust the studies.

“The governor has said all along he believes ridership projections for this and other rail projects are overestimated,” said spokeswoman Amy Graham. “Numerous studies support this conclusion.”

Wilbur Smith Associates, one of the companies that conducted the study, is a transportation and infrastructure consulting firm founded in 1952. It has 56 offices in eight countries, according to the company’s website.

Steer Davies Gleave has 16 offices worldwide, including locations in Boston and Denver according to its website.

The sunny numbers came way too late for rail proponents, who criticized Scott for turning down the money before all the information was available.

“Now we see more evidence that shows just how profitable high-speed rail would have been,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. “Private firms had been clamoring to bid on Florida’s high-speed rail initiative. Now, unfortunately, because of the governor’s rigid ideology, these private companies will look to other states. The jobs and economic benefits will follow.”

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, who unsuccessfully fought Scott’s decision in the state Supreme Court, said he doubts an earlier release of the ridership study would have made a difference to the governor.

“His conclusion was political, not based on economics, good business or even protecting the taxpayers,” Altman said. “As time passes and more information comes out, you can see the injustice that was done to the state of Florida.”

In the wake of the study, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is clinging to the idea that the line could be built.

“I still have a sliver of hope that common sense and the facts will prevail,” he said.

Others, though, want to just let the matter go.

“Frankly, it’s Day 2 of session,” said House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. “That issue, unless the governor changes his mind or does something differently, is behind us. So we’ve got to move forward.”

A poll conducted by the Tampa Chamber of Commerce shows that 59 percent of Hillsborough County registered voters support a high-speed rail line connecting Tampa to Orlando. The survey questioned 400 voters likely to participate in the November 2012 election between March 2 and 6 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is expected to announce by the end of the week which states will receive Florida’s money. According to an attorney for the governor, the state had already spent about $110 million on the project when Scott announced that he did not want to go forward with it.

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Senator Kerry asked Transportation Secretary LaHood to divert funding for high speed rail.


After Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal funds to build a high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando, U.S., leaving the skeptics happy and the hopeful not so much.

Other Senators jump the mark in an effort to cash in on Florida’s poorly made decision to abandon the project.

Kerry and nine other senators wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last Friday urging the Obama administration to divert the funding earmarked for Florida to the Northeast corridor.

“Our states are ready to put these funds to good use to improve our existing high speed rail service, reduce congestion and create jobs,” they wrote.

Kerry and the other senators noted that more than 250 million passengers ride the rails along the northeast corridor annually, a number that is expected to increase 60 percent by 2030.

Ironically, Governor Rick Scott’s “Let Get to Work” motto falls flat on its face with the rejection of the stimulus package.

Scott rejected the federal high-speed rail funding on Feb. 16, calling the proposed project a “boondoggle” that would wind up costing Florida taxpayers millions more than expected.

This highly divided issue in Florida politics tends to anger many, myself included. As many of my friends were against the rail due to the financial problem it could potentially provide for taxpayers- Heart of America’s CEO, Denise Haywald, offers a differing opinion:

“I have lived in Florida my entire life- I can easily visualize the benefits of having a high speed rail connecting Tampa, Orlando (and even Miami & Pensacola). Not only would it promote tourism and reduce car accidents but it would also reduce our carbon emissions and improve our air quality.”

“It is a shame that people  could only focus on the negative of this governmental funded money. I have learned of the decision making behind the scenes and I am appalled by the lack of planning and attention giving to a job creation program.”

“I find it especially ironic that Florida Governor Rick Scott’s election slogan was “Let’s Get to Work”- when he rejected a job creation program without even a second glance or an active standing committee to weigh the risk/benefits analysis. What a slap in the face to an unemployed Floridian who would desperately needs a job.”

“Not to mention the economic boost from increased tourism and the benefits to the environment.”

Other Senators see the possibilities; Senator Kerry hopes the Northeast can once again benefit from other states rejecting federal high-speed rail funding after the Obama administration steered $2.9 million to Massachusetts last December after governors in Ohio and Wisconsin rejected $1.2 billion in federal support.

“We believe this is an insufficient investment in the Northeast Corridor, given our region’s position as a population and economic mega-region,” the senators wrote.

Governor Scott and LaHood met last Friday and LaHood gave the Florida governor a week to reconsider his decision after Scott asked for more information about a revised plan.

Time is up. I guarantee that Governor Scott will reject it and I can guaranteed that he has hasnt put any additional thought or analysis into it.

It is apparent that Governor Scott is adamant on not creating jobs via a high speed rail.  Our loss is the NE’s gain.

Copyright (c) March 4, 2011. All rights reserved.

Supremes Court ruling- Fla Gov Scott had authority to axe hi-speed rail, train likely dead


Two senators who challenged Fla Gov. Rick Scott’s authority to kill a high speed rail project failed to make their case, the Florida  Supreme Court ruled today.

Scott reiterated his rejection of $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for the project this morning in a telephone call with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, likely meaning the money will go to other states.

“The Governor is gratified that the court provided a clear and unanimous decision, he is now focused on moving forward with infrastructure projects that create long-term jobs and turn Florida’s economy around. He also spoke with US DOT Secretary LaHood this morning and informed him that Florida will focus on other infrastructure projects and will not move forward with any federal high speed rail plan,” Scott’s spokesman Brian Burgess said in a statement.

Sens. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, sued Scott for rejecting $2.4 billion in federal funds for the Tampa-to-Orlando project. They argued he violated the constitutional separation of powers by effectively overriding the legislature’s order that the the state create the high-speed rail system.

The court, which heard oral arguments on the fast-tracked case yesterday, rejected their argument in a one-paragraph unanimous ruling issued this morning.

“Based on the limited record before the Court and a review of the federal and state law relied on by the parties, the Court has determined that the petitioners have not clearly demonstrated entitlement to quo warranto, mandamus, or any other relief. Accordingly, the emergency petition is hereby denied,” the judges ordered.

Copyright (c) March 4, 2011. All rights reserved.

Florida lawmakers threaten to sue Governor Rick Scott over high speed rail.


State lawmakers in Florida are threatening to sue GOP Gov. Rick Scott over his refusal to take $2.4 billion in high-speed rail money.

The fight in Florida comes amid a renewed push by President Obama on high-speed rail, which the White House has identified as a key investment in the nation’s future.

Scott describes the $2.4 billion the federal government has offered his state a “federal boondoggle” and has refused to accept the money to build a high-speed rail line from Tampa to Orlando.

Republicans in Washington have also criticized Obama’s proposal to spend on high-speed rail at a time of record deficits. The White House argues the investment in rail would help the nation’s economic growth.

Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood has repeatedly extended the timeframe for Scott to accept the funds, only to be denied.

“It’s time to play hardball,” Democratic Florida state Rep. Scott Randolph told Orlando TV station WESH in a Monday report. The station reported that two other state lawmakers – one Democrat and one Republican – are considering a lawsuit to force Scott to accept the money.

“It’s a tough situation for the legislature but I think at some point in time, members of his own party are going to have to stand up and say that we are an independent branch of government and you’re going to respect us,” he told the station.

Only California has been offered more than the $2.4 billion the federal government has put on the table for Florida over the past two years.

LaHood has said he would begin considering transferring the rail money to other states if Scott did not get on board by the end of the week. LaHood had originally set a deadline for last Friday.

California and New York have already expressed interest in the money, and this week, several northeast senators said the money should be sent there because they already have high-speed rail that could be improved.

“With its large population and high economic activity, the Northeast Corridor is well-positioned to lead the nation into the future of high-speed rail transportation,” 10 Democratic senators wrote in a letter to LaHood on Monday.

The letter was singed by Delaware Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Joe Liebermann, Maryland Sens. Benjamin Cardin and Barbara Milkulski, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), and New Jersey Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez.

“If another project sponsor in Florida is not found, our states stand ready to put the unwanted funds to good use to improve our existing high speed rail service, create jobs, and reduce congestion and air pollution.”

Obama told a group of governors gathered at the White House on Monday that unlike health care, rail has not typically been a partisan issue.

“Lincoln laid the rails during the course of a Civil War,” he said during his speech to the National Governor’s Association. “Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System. Both parties have always believed that America should have the best of everything. We don’t have third-rate airports and third-rate bridges and third-rate highways. That’s not who we are. We shouldn’t start going down that path.”

Copyright (c) March 1, 2011. All rights reserved.

 

Published in: on March 1, 2011 at 5:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

High Speed/Light Rail Index


Florida to propose a light rail between TIA and Downtown Orlando.

Rick Scott’s ironic “Let’s Get to Work” slogan and rejection of job creation.

Published in: on February 17, 2011 at 4:32 am  Leave a Comment  

Rick Scott’s ironic “Let’s Get to Work” slogan and rejection of job creation.


Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, chided Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday for his decision to turn down $2.4 billion in federal money for a high speed rail project connected Tampa to Orlando, saying that this would have created a lot of jobs and noted the irony of Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” campaign slogan.

“Since taking office, the governor has done a great job at shutting down transportation projects which would have kept employed or put to work thousands of Floridians.”

The decision to reject Washington’s offer to return billions in our tax dollars to pay the bulk of a high speed rail project between  Orlando and Tampa being the latest. ‘Let’s get to work’ is starting to ring hollow in the face of a resilient 12 percent unemployment rate,” Rich said.

Scott called Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood early Wednesday to let him know he would not accept the funds for the project, saying it was “too risky to taxpayers” because ridership and revenue estimates were “over-optimistic” and would mean taxpayers subsidize the annual costs.

While the risks and unknowns are duly noted, one cannot help to think that there will always be an excuse and negativity when something new is suggested. If the full cost has not been determined, why not? Before we totally reject it- let’s see the full facts and figures and means in which the rail will be annually funded.

There is a lot of speculation and for Scott to immediately right off the concept and to even further, not provide a “plan b” for use of the funding that the government was willing to give us is reproachable at a time where unemployment is staggering at a whopping 9%.

Copyright (c) February 16, 2011. All rights reserved.

Florida to propose a light rail between TIA and Downtown Orlando.


Hillsborough transit planners are proposing a light rail line between Tampa International Airport and downtown that’s smaller and less costly than the one shot down by voters in November.

The proposal, which came up during an agency meeting Monday, hasn’t yet been approved, and funding sources are still being worked out.

Initial estimates peg the 12.4-mile rail line at $825 million — far less than the $1.7 billion system voters were asked to approve last year through a 1-cent sales tax increase.

“I think it’s important that what we put forward not include local taxes, given what happened Nov. 2,” Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board member and County Commissioner Kevin Beckner said Tuesday.

HART planners recommended the east-west system in part to keep costs down.

Most of the rail line would be built along Interstate 275 between Kennedy Boulevard and Lois Avenue on land already owned by the state Department of Transportation.

Planners recommended keeping most of the line at ground level, instead of elevated, to further control costs.

At Lois Avenue, the line would turn north to a passenger terminal at the airport.

An additional spur would take riders to Linebaugh Avenue.

In downtown, riders would disembark at a new transit hub at Kennedy Boulevard and Marion Street to connect with the proposed Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail line.

“We’ve been looking at two corridors: north from downtown to USF and New Tampa, and the second line was this west line,” said Mary Shavalier, HART’s chief of planning and program development.

“If HART wants a starter line, we had to look at what would be the most feasible, and this west line was more feasible than the north line,” she said.

The proposal came out of a study called an “alternatives analysis” begun about a year and a half ago.

Shavalier said funding could come from federal and state sources, public-private partnerships and lease options.

The exact sources and amounts haven’t been worked out.

Annual operating costs of $8.5 million could come from passenger fares, advertising fees, county gas taxes, and possibly a special assessment district where the line operates.

Copyright (c) February 10, 2011. All rights reserved.

Published in: on February 10, 2011 at 10:17 pm  Leave a Comment