TAMPA, Florida - Despite promises that he would consult a new feasibility study in February before making any decisions on high-speed rail (HSR), Gov. Rick Scott yanked the project off the tracks Wednesday based on a report published on Jan. 6 from a notorious rail opponent.
The governor's office confirmed Scott relied on a controversial report from the libertarian Reason Foundation. It indicated Florida would be vulnerable to cost overruns and overambitious ridership projections - concerns Scott cited in his Wednesday decision.
More Florida High speed rail coverage:
2/16/11 - Gov. Scott rejects federal High Speed Rail money
1/18/11 - Florida GOP, Dems lining up in support of HSR
1/11/11 - New report provides hope for HSR in Florida
1/6/11- Gov. Scott weighs high-speed rail options
12/10/10 - Federal funds roll in as other states reject rail
11/10/10 - High-speed rail stops in Lakeland under scrutiny
11/9/10 - Nelson, Iorio plead with Rick Scott to support high-speed rail
10/8/10 - Election Day could derail high-speed trains
7/19/10 - Work on high-speed rail lines begin along I-4
But on Jan. 6, the same day the study came out, Scott indicated he was waiting on a different study to make his decision.
"There's a feasibility study that's supposed to come out, a ridership study, that's going to give me more information," he said. "I think it's in February, that's my understanding. So at that point I want to go through and see what the feasibility is, what the actual cost to the state will be. Also I want to sit down with the companies that possibly want to run this and see which one of them is going to fund things, if there are going to be operating losses."
Companies such as Siemans and Virgin America indicated they would be willing to assume the risk and Florida's $280 million portion of the bill for the right to be the first HSR-builder in America. But Scott's Wednesday rejection came before those private companies even had a chance to make a bid, which would have cost the state nothing.
Rail proponents also criticized the Reason Foundation study for automatically assuming the project would come in over-budget and ridership would automatically come in under projections. Many dismissed it as a worse-than-worst-case scenario.
The Reason Foundation study also didn't factor in ridership from tourists, a large component of the estimated customer base for the Orlando-to-Tampa line.
Follow 10 Connects reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky or Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky.