A computer rendering shows what a proposed high speed rail line would look like on the Interstate 4 corridor.
ORLANDO, Florida - Delivering a passionate speech in front of hundreds of engineers, contractors, and business-owners, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) pleaded with Governor-Elect Rick Scott not to reject the $2 billion in federal stimulus dollars for high-speed rail.
"Our state desperately needs those funds," said Nelson, admitting he was nervous about Scott's Election Day victory.
Scott waged war on the federal stimulus plan, which has so far allocated tens of billions to Florida, including $2 billion for the 84-mile Orlando-to-Tampa connector.
"If we're going to remake transportation in Florida," Nelson said, "we need to move with this new, very visionary project and we don't want to be looking back in 20 years saying, 'We missed the ball.' "
Florida is expected to pay just 10 percent of the rail line's cost and it is expected to create tens of thousands of jobs. But Scott said here (around the 4:30 mark) that he would not support rail if Florida had to pay any of the bill.
The initial line is expected to be open in 2015 and a future line would connect Orlando to Miami.
Nelson was part of a large contingency of local and elected officials kicking off a two-day high-speed rail forum at the Orange County Convention Center.
Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa), Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields, and State Sen. Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland) also spoke.
Dockery, a member of Scott's transition team, said she didn't think he had enough knowledge on the subject yet and would come around on the high-speed rail investment once she talked with him about it.
"He just needs to know more about it to have the fears about the cost to the taxpayer answered," she said.
Scott backed off his opposition to the project a bit last week, as did Rep. John Mica (R-Winter Park), the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee.
But even after passing along a message of encouragement to the forum's attendees on Monday, Mica suggested denying the Tampa leg until voters approve light rail. A transportation tax that would have dedicated 75% to building 20 miles of light rail was rejected on Nov. 2.
"We're going to have good connections at the terminus in Tampa," said Castor. "We're going to revitalize Downtown Tampa, Ybor City, Tampa Heights... folks will be able to connect to the ports and the beaches in Pinellas."
"Returning the money would do nothing," said Iorio. "It would just go elsewhere...it would not change the federal deficit."
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Noah Pransky, 10 News