Here's the next installment of the Florida high-speed rail soap opera, as in The Daily Adventures Of. . . .
You will recall, in the last chapter, that Congressman Mica had recommended a 21 mile airport connector to replace the 84 mile original plan to link Tampa and Orando with a 185 mph train. Half a loaf is better than none, as they say.
Well, Senator Nelson of Florida doesn't approve and wants only the whole loaf. Nelson spoke to LaHood and they agreed that the ARRA Stimulus HSR plan put forth by Obama, LaHood and the FRA doesn't include airport connectors, although it does include Amtrak trains going 20 mph faster than they are now. Given how loose their definition of HSR is, you would think that since speed isn't, distance also isn't a critical variable. But, they want to connect big cities by trains that go a little faster anyhow. That's the FRA definition of HSR.
So, what's this all about, you're asking? “He felt it was critical to put forth something quickly because other states are already lining up to ask for this funding,” said spokesman Justin Harclerode." That's what it's all about. Repeat after me, "It's not about the train; it's about the money!"
So, how do the local politicians rationalize this quest for funding -- and note that California is exactly in the same boat, with the same funding hunger and rationalizations? “Our goal is to bring as many jobs as possible to the state of Florida and lay a foundation for long-term economic growth," Than you for clearing that up, Congresswoman Kaster from Tampa. It's not about the train then, is it Ms. Kaster?
As we've been saying for a long time, the jobs opportunity issue is a scam. The number of jobs produced by the injection of funding is calibrated by a formula, not facts on the ground. This situation is unique. We have no high-speed rail skills, expertise, professionals, manufacturing or construction experience or capacity. Where must these come from? Overseas, and that includes all the rolling stock. While there will doubtless be Union hiring of Floridians, much of the federal ARRA stimulus funds earmarked for this construction will end up overseas. Same in California. The Unions are being tragically misled.
Furthermore, contrary to what other Florida politicians are saying, construction is far from "shovel ready" in Florida. As you can tell by this flurry of disagreements. In California construction won't begin until well into 2012, at least a year and possibly two years off. What are the Union advocates for HSR saying about that to their rank-and-file?
So, what are we watching here? A struggle for too few dollars, If not spent here, it will go elsewhere since there are so many hungry sharks in this HSR tank. Another phenomenon, also apparent in California, is the indecisiveness, or more accurately, the disagreement about where to build. One politician wants it to go from Miami to Orlando, rather than Tampa to Orlando. Apparently, Orlando, home of Disneyland, is the world capital in Florida.
However, and surprisingly, a Council Commissioner, Mark Sharpe, who is in favor of HSR, displays some common sense and reiterates what we have been saying is missing fro the entire national HSR agenda. He criticizes the "piecemeal approach." He says, “I think it’s probably a good time now for us all to stop, take a deep breath, and begin to reevaluate our nation’s transportation plan from the bottom up and the top down,” Exactly, Mr. Sharpe.
The final quotation in this article that's worth repeating displays the same abililty to think beyond the current political confines. However, U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Brooksville misses the central issue. "The bottom line is that building high-speed rail just for the sake of building high-speed rail would be a reckless mistake and it is a perfect example of why the stimulus hasn’t worked” They are not intent on building high-speed rail for the sake of the trains; they are building it, in both Florida and California, for the money, and that's why the stimulus hasn't worked.
As we've said before, Mica's idea of the airport connector is a pretty good one. It meets a critical need in regional transit and can serve as a "test-bed" for the efficacy of next generation railroad technology before they go any further and built the already highly criticized Orlando/Tampa route. That could be an example of building a train, not for the sake of building a fancy luxury train where it isn't needed, or for the sake of pulling federal funds into Florida, but for the sake of transit using citizens.
Said another way, when there is an expression of interest in "doing it right," as we like to say in California, it gets shot down.
Posted on Sat, Feb. 19, 2011
Plan for shorter high-speed rail rebuffed
By Alex Leary and Janet Zink
St. Petersburg Times
WASHINGTON Federal officials on Saturday balked at a scaled-back plan for high-speed rail proposed by a powerful Florida congressman, giving hope to advocates for an entire Orlando-to-Tampa line but underscoring the efforts’ shaky status.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, late Friday announced a plan to dramatically shrink the project to an Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World link.
Chairman of the House transportation committee, Mica contends it’s the best way to get the project rolling and overcome the problem presented by Gov. Rick Scott’s rejection of $2.4 billion in federal funding.
But Sen. Bill Nelson spoke with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Saturday and said later that federal officials are saying no to Mica’s plan, which would be limited to 21 miles in the Orlando area. The idea was to connect large metropolitan areas and quickly move people between them.
The Department of Transportation declined to comment but did not dispute Nelson’s account. Mica was traveling and could not be reached for comment. A spokesman said he was open to feedback from Tampa officials.
“He felt it was critical to put forth something quickly because other states are already lining up to ask for this funding,” said spokesman Justin Harclerode.
What happens next is unclear. Mica’s sudden plan paired with the apparent disapproval by the Department of Transportation made for a lot of unknowns Saturday and time is running out.
A loose coalition of Florida officials has until Friday to come up with an alternative that bypasses the state and transfers the money to some other entity, such as a regional transportation board or local government.
Indeed, a divided approach over how to proceed would hamper their case, particularly with the time crunch.
If they cannot come up with something, Florida’s $2.4 billion will be handed out to other states, several of which have eagerly stretched out their palms in the days since Scott’s rejection.
Advocates for the full line were surprised, if not taken aback by Mica’s plan, released late Friday. They proceeded cautiously Saturday, but disappointment was evident.
“Our goal is to bring as many jobs as possible to the state of Florida and lay a foundation for long-term economic growth,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who has been coordinating with officials in Tampa and Nelson.
“We have the basis for a legal and practical proposal that will accomplish the original goal of high-speed rail, jobs and hope for Florida,” Castor said.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, a rail proponent, criticized a “piecemeal approach.”
“I think it’s probably a good time now for us all to stop, take a deep breath, and begin to reevaluate our nation’s transportation plan from the bottom up and the top down,” he said.
Mica proposed to bring together Orange and Osceola counties with the city of Orlando to build a 21-mile stretch between Walt Disney World and Orlando International Airport.
As for stations, Disney has committed to donate a site valued at $25 million for a stop on its property, according to federal grant applications. A convention center stop is planned for a 20-acre parcel owned by Orange County, and the final station is at Orlando International Airport.
Some thought his plan could work.
State Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican from St. Petersburg who chairs the transportation committee, said “more power” to Mica if he “can swing this.” It could pave the way for a Tampa leg, Latvala said, and could be done with little help from the governor.
“As long as it’s in one county or metropolitan area, I would pretty much imagine that could be done with local sponsorship,” Latvala said. “The only problem is, I think he could say you can’t have DOT right of way.
I just can’t imagine he wouldn’t be reasonable.”
But Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Republican senator from Fort Lauderdale, said if Mica’s plan needed any state backing, it wouldn’t get hers because 21 miles is too short.
“The purpose of a bullet train is to take you long distances in a short period of time. I don’t think the airport to Disney is a long-enough distance. At first glance, it really doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” she said.
Bogdanoff said she never liked the project anyway, and would have preferred that a Miami-to-Orlando route be built first because of its greater ridership potential.
Latvala and Bogdanoff signed a letter this week criticizing Scott for rejecting the federal money, largely they said, over the way Scott handled it.
“He didn’t let it go through the process,” Bogdanoff said. “The process is important to maintain a democracy. This is not corporate America. This is politics.”
Critics of any rail deal say a smaller line does not help the case.
“The bottom line is that building high-speed rail just for the sake of building high-speed rail would be a reckless mistake and it is a perfect example of why the stimulus hasn’t worked,” said U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Brooksville.
But Ray Chiaramonte, executive director of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization, is just hoping a deal can be worked out.
“If the issue is protecting the taxpayers, then let’s work on getting an agreement that does that,” he said.
“I honestly believe there’s enough taxpayer support to make this happen. ... This has evolved over the last 20 years to finally come up with something that can work. Let’s not throw away 20 years of work. This is a game-changing project for our community, and we need to be very serious about this fork in the road.”
© 2011 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.