The Post-Mortem on Florida's HSR

Michael Cooper examines the factors leading to the death of a once-promising plan to connect Tampa and Orlando by bullet train.
March 14, 2011, 6am PDT | Lynn Vande Stouwe
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It was not so long ago that Florida's high-speed rail project stood to be a "showpiece" for the rest of the country, writes Cooper. The federal government had agreed to fund $2.4 of $2.6 billion in construction costs, and railroad companies were competing to operate the new line. However, Cooper says, the project was doomed by both planning shortfalls and politics, with newly elected Governor Scott Walker ultimately killing it last month.

Cooper chronicles the political rise and fall of Florida's high-speed rail, from early championing by Governor Charlie Christ, a Republican with national ambitions, to more recent debates that echo a national trend of Republican governors opposing rail projects. Furthermore, he argues, the chief problem plaguing the project from the start was Tampa and Orlando's relative proximity. The two cities are only 84 miles apart.

Cooper writes:

"The Tampa-to-Orlando route had obvious drawbacks: It would have linked two cities that are virtually unnavigable without cars, and that are so close that the new train would have been little faster than driving. But the Obama administration chose it anyway because it was seen as the line that could be built first...In the end, though, the state's new governor decided not to build it at all, worried that those very drawbacks would ultimately make it a boondoggle."

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Published on Friday, March 11, 2011 in The New York Times
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