Friday, November 5, 2010
THE NEW GOP HOUSE SHOWS IT'S MUSCLES EARLY!
The new GOP House shows its muscle early:
Rep. John Mica says he’s not into funding high speed rail to Tampa
November 5, 2010 at 7:56 am by Mitch Perry
John MicaIt’s not the first time he’s made such remarks, but now when Orlando Republican Congressman John Mica speaks, people listen closer. Tuesday night’s elections transferred power to Republicans in the House of Representatives, and could return the Representative back as Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which he previously was until 2007, where he has since been the ranking Republican.
Speaking the day after Hillsborough county voters rejected the transit tax that would begin the first steps to constructing a light rail system, Mica trashed the idea of having the federal government continue to fund a Tampa to Orlando high speed rail line, as he spoke to the Associated Press:
“I am a strong advocate of high-speed rail, but it has to be where it makes sense,” Mica said. “The administration squandered the money, giving it to dozens and dozens of projects that were marginal at best to spend on slow-speed trains to nowhere.”
Mica said he wants to “refocus on several projects that could be a success, particularly in the Northeast corridor, which was almost totally neglected by the administration. We’ll revisit all of those projects.”
Two weeks ago, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a second round of high-speed rail grants. California was awarded an additional $902 million; Florida $800 million.
Mica suggested possibly scaling back the Florida project to a line that runs between the Orlando airport and theme parks and tourist destinations in the Orlando area.
Such a route would have “tremendous potential for actually making money,” he said.
Mica hedged on that idea somewhat in an article in today’s Tampa Tribune, in which he’s now saying that the private sector needs to kick in hundreds of millions of dollars to complete the Tampa-Orlando route.
“I will look at it with a critical eye and look at what makes sense,” Mica said. “The last thing we want is to build a dog that has to be highly subsidized by taxpayers.”
As noted above, Mica has previously criticized the Tampa-Orlando line, but it was considered “shovel-ready” at the time, with the state having already acquired the right of way along I-4. It has five different stops, one in Tampa, Lakeland, and three in Orlando. (Many others believe the Orlando-Miami line has much greater potential, but there’s a lot more work to be done to make that ready to start constructing a rail network between those two tourist destinations.)
Some officials in Tampa were hoping to lobby state officials to get funding to have high-speed rail go to Tampa International Airport, but those efforts went nowhere. Now might that be the case for high-speed rail even getting to Tampa?
This summer Mica criticized funding that line, telling Time magazine,
“You can’t have real high-speed rail if you’re stopping all the time. It’s in my district. I should be as happy as a hog eating trash. But we need a real success, and this is pretty marginal.”
In that same article, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took exception to Mica’s remarks, since the Orlando Republican lobbied LaHood to come to Florida last December when the Legislature voted for commuter rail and tri-rail in South Florida, actions that were seen as essential for the federal government to support giving federal monies for a high-speed rail line.
But two things have changed since then — Mica is now back in control of appropriations in the House. And Hillsborough voters rejected the penny sales tax referendum. Recently Mica said that vote was critical for the future of high-speed rail, saying, “Tampa has nothing right now.”
Tampa area Congresswoman Kathy Castor is a strong supporter of the high speed rail initiative. When contacted by CL, Congresswoman Castor said:
“The high-speed rail investment is vital to creating jobs in the near term and to Florida’s long-term economic growth. This initiative is already putting people to work and contracts already have been let.
“Mr. Mica deserves credit for his ability to foster public-private partnerships, which is one of the cornerstones of Florida’s successful high-speed rail initiative.
“The state of Florida deserves what other communities across the country have gotten – a fair share of transportation dollars. I remain committed to developing a successful high-speed rail line that creates jobs and connects Florida.”
CL also has reached out to Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson’s office, and is awaiting comment from him. Two weeks ago, at a ceremony in Tampa’s Union Station announcing that the state had received an additional $800 million for the program, expressed concern about some ambiguous comments made by now Governor-elect Rick Scott on possibly ending the state’s participation in high-speed rail.
At that time, Nelson grew agitated, saying, ““Nothing is more important than our investment in our transportation infrastructure. Nothing.”
Meanwhile, Congresswoman Castor’s office alerted CL that she will be attending a conference in Orlando next week on high-speed rail in Florida.
Posted by Eileen at 1:47 PM