When 2010 ended with the defeat of Hillsborough’s transportation referendum, 2011 held the silver lining hope of a Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail line. But that was not meant to be. Join us for this look back at 2011.
January: Newly elected Governor Rick Scott tells Rep. John Mica and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that he is waiting on a feasibility study to determine what would be the capabilities of high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando. It is assumed that Scott would use this study to determine if Florida should accept federal dollars to build the first leg of high-speed rail in Florida.
Jan. 11: Senate President Mike Haridopolos says he no longer supports the state paying for any share of high-speed rail money, flipping on his previous statements and votes made when he supported the state funding for Central Florida’s SunRail.
Jan. 12: The Florida Rail Enterprise tells a Florida Senate committee that private builders and investors will have to cover the state’s expected $280 million share of the Tampa-Orlando line, with the federal funds amounting to $2.4 billion or 90 percent of the project.
Feb. 16: Scott rejects federal funding for Florida high-speed rail, effectively killing the project that was decades in the making. WTSP-TV Tampa Bay and the St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald report that Scott based his rejection on a report by the libertarian Reason Foundation, with several lines from the report being included in Scott’s statement. The report was debunked by supporters of high-speed rail and fact checkers.
Feb. 16-17: Haridopolos expresses his support of Scott’s decision, earning a “full flop” from PolitiFact. Twenty-six senators, a “veto-proof” majority, sign a letter opposing Scott’s decision. The five candidates for Mayor of Tampa express their opposition to Scott’s decision.
Feb. 18-21: LaHood grants additional time to find a way to accept federal money to build the line. The mayors of Lakeland, Orlando and Tampa develop a plan to create an entity that would be in charge of the project. The plan is developed by Tampa City Attorney Chip Fletcher. Scott reportedly tells Sen. Bill Nelson that he is open to a plan that removes any burden from the state.
Mar. 1: Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio meet with Scott in Orlando. It is the first time since Scott entered office that he had met with any of the mayors regarding high-speed rail. The mayors present their plan for Lakeland, Orlando and Tampa to form a “non-recourse entity” to accept the federal money, remove any burden on the state and open bidding for high-speed rail builders. Scott rejects the plan.
Mar. 2: Melbourne State Sen. Thad Altman and Tampa State Sen. Arthenia Joyner sue Scott in Florida Supreme Court, accusing Scott of overstepping his authority in rejecting high-speed rail funds. Scott argues that since the state had spent $110 million of $131 million originally allocated on the project from federal sources, he was allowed to kill it.
Mar. 3: Hillsborough County Commissioners fail to send a letter opposing Scott’s decision, with the letter losing on a 3-3 vote.
Mar. 4: The Florida Supreme Court rules that Scott has the authority to reject federal funds. The federal government begins distributing the $2.4 billion allocated to Florida to other states.
Mar. 9: Scott’s requested feasibility study is leaked to the press, revealing that the Tampa-Orlando line would have made money. In the first year, the line would have had a $10.2 million operating surplus with 3.3 million riders and a $28.6 million operating surplus by 2025. It is believed by some that Scott killed high-speed rail in February because a first draft of the report stated these positive figures. But some also believed that the feasibility report would not have made a difference.
“[Scott’s] conclusion was political, not based on economics, good business or even protecting the taxpayers,” State Sen. Thad Altman said. “As time passes and more information comes out, you can see the injustice that was done to the state of Florida.”
April: Scott’s attorney in the Florida Supreme Court case, Charles Trippe, tells the court that he was wrong in describing the state’s spending of high-speed rail funds. Trippe reveals that the state had spent $31 million, not $110 million as Trippe told the court in arguments. Scott’s office knew that the $110 million number was incorrect.
May: Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) votes to end the alternatives analysis study that would determine transit options for several corridors in Hillsborough County. The HART board cites the failure of the November 2010 transportation referendum as a reason to end the study.
June: TBARTA updates their regional master plan for Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. The plan included updates to the 2050 long range regional plan, freight movements, regional roadways and transit networks.
July: Scott allows SunRail to move forward, a huge victory for Orlando and Central Florida. The project had been approved by Gov. Charlie Crist and Scott claimed he would have lost a court challenge had he stopped the commuter rail line. The creation of SunRail allows for the construction of a new CSX freight terminal in Winter Haven.
August: Scott earns a “false” from PolitiFact for telling WTSP-TV Tampa Bay that high-speed rail would have cost the state $1 billion. He told the same line to Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris, after Morris expressed his support of rail projects.
Aug. 16: Tampa Bay is named the second most dangerous place for pedestrians in the United States. Only Orlando is more dangerous. Florida is the most dangerous state for pedestrians, with four cities in the top-ten most dangerous places.
October: The Urban Land Institute finishes their week long study of Tampa’s central neighborhoods. ULI proposes safer roads for pedestrians, “walkable transit-ready districts,” and an expanded streetcar system.
November: The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization proposes ferry service connecting Gibsonton to MacDill Air Force Base.
December: C.C. “Doc” Dockery, one of the strongest supporters of high-speed rail in Florida, reports that Scott did not meet with any of the eight multi-national consortiums seeking to build high-speed rail. This is in conflict with Scott’s claim that none of the companies he spoke with wanted to cover the state’s share of the project.
Dec. 12: Pinellas On Track, the alternatives analysis study for Pinellas, selects light rail to connect Clearwater to St. Petersburg, via Gateway.
Coming next week, a preview of 2012.