TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Hours after the Obama administration gave Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, a week to reconsider his opposition to a revised proposal for high-speed trains between Tampa and Orlando, the Republican kept up his harsh criticism of the project.
US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood offered the reprieve after meeting with Scott in Washington. At stake is $2.4 billion the federal government would take back if Scott doesn’t approve the project.
“He asked me for additional information about the state’s role in this project, the responsibilities of the Florida Department of Transportation, as well as how the state would be protected from liability,’’ LaHood said in a statement. “He has committed to make a final decision by the end of next week.’’
Several hours after meeting with LaHood, Scott stuck to his objections.
“I believe high-speed rail is a federal boondoggle, as I said more than a week ago,’’ Scott said. “I communicated to Secretary LaHood that as long as Florida remains on the hook for cost overruns, operating costs, and paybacks in the case of default, I will vigorously oppose this project.’’
If Scott rejects the project, the money would be reallocated to one or more other states seeking high-speed rail funding, including California, New York, and Rhode Island.
As recently as Thursday night, LaHood told a meeting of US mayors — including several from Florida — the project was dead and the money offered to Florida would go to other states, said Mort Downey, a Clinton administration transportation official and an adviser for President Obama’s 2008 campaign.
LaHood gave Scott until next Friday to make a decision on the revised proposal. The new plan, worked out with Tampa, Lakeland, Orlando, and Miami officials, would absolve the state of financial or legal obligation by turning the project over to the local governments.
Obama has sought to make a national high-speed rail system a signature project of his administration, but Republican governors elected in November in Wisconsin and Ohio have already killed two major projects approved by their Democratic predecessors.