Private High Speed Rail Could be Coming to Central Florida

High speed rail is coming to Central Florida–but with private backing behind it instead of relying on public dollars.

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott announced that Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is starting the process to allow the private sector to build high speed rail between Orlando and Tampa, something that the governor rejected in 2011 when presented with a chance for $2 billion in federal funds. The FDOT and the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) have received a proposal to lease state owned land along I 4 to be used to build high speed rail between the two cities.

Scott was upbeat about the news and contrasted the use of public funds to support such ventures with leaving them to the private sector.

“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,” Scott said. “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.”

FDOT Secretary Mike Dew also applauded the news.

“The department is committed to creating a robust transportation system that meets Florida’s current and future needs,” Dew said. “Privately-funded passenger rail will provide residents and visitors a transportation choice for one of the busiest corridors in the state.”

Despite Scott’s jab at the Obama administration, several Central Florida Democrats cheered the announcement.

“Orlando is a destination of choice for those visiting our world-class attractions, attending business conventions or enjoying a weekend getaway,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. “As mayor, I have worked to ensure that we offer residents and visitors, safe, efficient and affordable transportation options. Having more passenger rail options will create more jobs and make it easier to experience our great city.”

“Whether it’s visiting our pristine beaches or catching a game, adding safe and affordable private passenger rail service will provide a needed alternative for those wanting to spend time in Tampa,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “Establishing private passenger rail service enables more public transportation options while creating jobs and reducing congestion on our roadways.”

“Throughout my two terms as mayor, the improvement and expansion of our regional transportation systems has been a top priority,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. “As a premier global destination for guests, families and business leaders from around the world, we’re committed to the creation of transportation infrastructure – including private passenger rail – that will serve our residents and guests seamlessly.”

 

Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.

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