Thursday, March 31, 2011
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- You'd think that a state knocked cold by the real-estate meltdown would invest in a future not based on housing bubbles. And that if the feds dangled a bag of money to help it address a serious economic drag -- a gridlocked highway system that turns off tourists, retirees and business travelers -- you'd think the state would grab it.
But this is Florida, where the recently elected Gov. Rick Scott has rejected $2.4 billion in federal money for a $2.7 billion high-speed train connecting Tampa and Orlando. Scott offers several reasons for this move, though not necessarily the real one.
The Republican insists that Florida taxpayers would have to subsidize the line's operations, even though a state-sponsored study says otherwise. He notes that Tampa-Orlando is a relatively short 84-mile trip, and because the train would make stops, the trip would take almost as long as driving. This is true, assuming Interstate 4 isn't clogged with traffic, which it often is. (Orlando ranks seventh in the country for the worst traffic.)
But the Tampa-Orlando run was to be just a first leg on a more ambitious bullet-train system. The bigger vision has trains turning right at Orlando and zooming down the crowded east coast to Miami. Tampa to Miami is 281 often tough road miles.
This piecemeal thinking is indeed problematic, says Rush Loving, a railroad expert and author of "The Man Who Loved Trains." "The real market for the Tampa-Orlando run would have been from the airport to Disney World," he told me. That's not why you build bullet trains. "But there is a market from the Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports to Disney World."
Consider my recent conversation with a helpful Thrifty car rental guy at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Do you wish to buy a SunPass for the toll roads? he asked.
No, I responded, I'll be driving on non-toll Interstate 95. Any other reason why I might need a SunPass?
Well, he said, many drivers headed south to Miami on I-95 encounter such congestion that they switch to Florida's Turnpike, which is a toll road. Florida has been getting rid of humans who make change, so you need a SunPass at unmanned exits.
OR you can go through the TOLL-BY-PLATE collection system, where a photo is taken of the license plate and a bill for that sum plus an administrative charge is sent to the rental company and added to your final tab.
Suppose I were a jet-lagged tourist from Poland (or Portland). I'd think: What on earth is he talking about? I could visit the turnpike website and its "frequently asked questions," of which there are 26. One tells car renters who miss a toll, "Please contact the rental car company directly to report the missed toll and to learn their policy on toll violations." Is it now clear?
OK, so why didn't Scott lunge for money that could have launched America's first bullet train and employed a bunch of jobless Floridians? Politics.
Fast trains were to be President Obama's moon shot. Work on the Tampa-Orlando link was already so far along that it could have debuted in time for the 2012 election. The project is wildly popular in the independent-voter-rich I-4 corridor. Giving the people what they want might help Obama win Florida, so you can't do that.
Meanwhile, the California High-Speed Rail Authority meets this week to pick projects on which to spend the $2.4 billion that Florida turned down. Scott's snub of this grant wrapped in golden ribbons has angered Floridians of all political persuasions. Just wait until the bullet trains start streaking across California.
COPYRIGHT 2011 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
See Other Political Commentary.
See Other Commentaries by Froma Harrop.
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter, the Rasmussen Report on radio and other media outlets.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $3.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on Election 2012, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.