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Florida and High Speed Rail: What's Wrong with this Picture?

Let’s consider several news articles from this past week.  First, from the Central Florida News’s article “Governor Rick Scott Remains Opposed to High Speed Rail”, we learn that Florida’s governor is sticking to his plan to reject federal funding for a high speed rail line from Tampa to Orlando.

Governor Scott’s stated reason for rejecting high speed rail funds is that he worries that, in the event of cost overruns in the construction of the high speed rail line, Florida taxpayers could be liable for providing as much as $3 billion in construction costs. 

Our second article, from The Guardian, is headlined “Oil Prices in “Danger Zone” for Global Economy, Says IEA’s Fatih Birol”, and explains that oil prices are rising toward $100 per barrel due to unrest in the Middle East.  Juxtaposed with the first article, it reveals that Governor Scott and others concerned about the financial cost of building high speed rail are taking a dangerously narrow approach to saving money.

In 2009, Floridians drove 194.7 billion miles—10,506 miles per person.   All that driving would require approximately 8.5 billion gallons of gasoline.  That means that every time gas prices rise 35 cents, as they have in the past year, Floridians pay out an extra $3 billion a year.  In comparison to that kind of spending on fuel, $3 billion one time for a valuable infrastructure improvement (and that’s Governor Scott’s high-end estimate for cost overruns, remember) seems a lot smaller.

Governor Scott’s decision perfectly illustrates the false thrift of refusing to upgrade our transportation system.  The longer we shy at the cost of improvements to our system that give people an alternative to driving, the more money we lose.  Let’s hope Governor Scott thinks again before making a final commitment to this penny-wise, pound-foolish decision.