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February 16, 2011

Florida Governor's High Speed Rail Fail, Big Oil Win

It's a nightmare all over again—in January, we wrote about Wisconsin Governor-elect Scott Walker rejecting federal high speed rail funds slated to build 21st century transportation rail in the state.

Today, like a recurring bad dream, Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected federal funds to build a high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando.  While many in Florida, including the mayor of Tampa, are hugely upset with the Governor's decision, Florida's loss is other states' gain with regard to reducing their dependence on oil, creating jobs, and providing 21st century transportation choices.

When Wisconsin Governor Walker rejected Wisconsin's share of high speed rail money, those funds were designated to other states like Illinois and California, much to their delight.  Now it's Florida's turn to ask, which states will be thanking us for our generous investment in their transportation future and economy?

Here's Sierra Club Florida's reaction to the Governor's rejection of 21st century passenger rail for Florida—in their words, a "tragic loss" for Florida and a "win for Big Oil."

Governor Rick Scott's rejection today of federal high speed rail funding is a tragic loss for our state's economy, especially our tourism industry, and our environment, but a win for Big Oil. 

Sierra Club Florida regrets that Governor Scott has said "no" to bringing 21st century transportation alternatives to our state. This decision maintains Florida's addiction to oil and sends jobs to other states that will gladly accept our share of high speed rail funds.

Floridians lack transportation choices leaving us to drive our cars and burn oil and pollute our air. Currently we have congested highways, dirty air and a need to protect our coasts from oil drilling. Sierra Club Florida believes that now is the time to invest in and build the foundation for a transportation system that helps move us beyond oil. High Speed Rail would have created jobs and provided Florida with an oil free transportation option.  Governor Scott's "NO" today means no jobs, no growth, and no movement away from our state’s addiction to oil.

Moreover, Florida has lost credibility as a business-friendly state. Florida's High Speed Rail is a shovel ready project with people invested in laying the rail, businesses and labor alike ready to go to work who have suddenly had the rug pulled out from underneath them. This action sends a message that Florida is not a safe place to make plans to do business in.

Governor Scott today demonstrates he is not looking to the future, but rather intends to maintain a continued reliance on oil. While Governor Scott expresses a concern for the operating expenses of High Speed Rail, this decision ignores the on-going boondoggle of spending billions of our tax dollars on ever-expanding roads. In some parts of our state, roads cannot be expanded any further to accommodate growth and seasonal tourism traffic.

Our state's loss -- the jobs, economic development, increased tourism that we would have had -- are other states' gains. As we saw recently with Wisconsin's rejection of high speed rail funds, other states, including California, Illinois, North Carolina and others, will gladly accept the funds and benefits of expanding passenger train service. Those states see themselves as winners in transportation technology and planning for the future. Florida will become even less competitive with such states than it is today in drawing the economic investment it needs to grow its economy with high paying employers.

Despite this tremendous disappointment, Sierra Club Florida will continue the fight for the clean transportation choices that our state needs. Whether it's to reduce our addiction to oil, clean up our air to reduce the harmful levels of ozone that result in asthma attacks in our children, or to avoid the dangerous driving conditions on I-4, Floridians need cleaner and safer transportation choices. Governor Scott has just done all in his power to away an important choice that would have put FL in the lead.  It's now up to Floridians to work together at the local and regional level to rise to this challenge.


-- Rachel Butler, Sierra Club's Green Transportation campaign



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