TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Some members of Florida's congressional delegation and state lawmakers are trying move forward with a high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa without Gov. Rick Scott's approval, and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday he'll give them a week to come up with a plan.
LaHood met with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Democratic House members a day after Scott rejected $2.4 billion in dedicated federal money, or about 90 percent of the project's estimated cost, in part because he doubted the train service would pay for itself once completed.
Alternatives could include having a regional planning agency or the rail authority that runs a South Florida commuter line oversee the project, according to Nelson's office.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of 25 state senators wrote to LaHood saying that an agency that state lawmakers created during a special legislative session 14 months ago could independently oversee the project.
The Legislature called that special session to approve an Orlando-area commuter rail project. They acted with urgency to be able to attract federal stimulus dollars for high-speed rail. At the same time, it created the Florida Rail Enterprise.
“Please give us the time necessary to work with the enterprise prior to re-allocating Florida's funds to another state. This project would create real jobs, cleaner and smarter transportation, and true economic development for Floridians,'' the state senators wrote.
California and New York have already indicated they want the $2.4 billion for rail projects if Florida rejects it. LaHood told Florida's Washington lawmakers he'd give them until Feb. 25 to present a plan.
Scott, a former businessman with tea-party backing, was elected last fall after running on promises to reduce corporate taxes, cut spending and jump-start the state economy. The rail line had the enthusiastic support of Scott's predecessor, Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist.