High-speed rail gaining momentum across the country even among Republicans

FLV_California_trainWhile Florida’s political leadership felt it was in the state’s best interest to turn down federal funds for High-speed rail (HSR) in 2011, allowing that money to be allocated to other states, politicians in other parts of the country including many Republicans are embracing the concept as a driver of economic development and a nnecessityin the new economy.

On Tuesday, California leaders will break ground on the state’s high speed project. Similarly Texas a state with a very conservative business-oriented political culture is embracing the idea.

In the meantime progress continues to be made in the Northeast Corridor on developing a separate High-speed line for the Amtrak Acela trains that run between Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Some variation of higher speed rail has been used in the Northeast since the late 1960’s when the Amtrak Metroliner was first introduced. The Acela Express has been so effective in moving business people throughout the Northeast since it began running in 2000, that the traditional airline shuttle service between the large cities of the region is dying off.

When Florida turned down federal funding in 2011, a good chunk of that money of it ended up in Michigan, a state which at the time had a Republican Governor and Legislature. After accepting the funds, Michigan began working with the leadership in Illinois to cut the travel time by train between Detroit and Chicago substantially. Missouri, a state that has grown more conservative in recent years is also working hard to link Chicago and St Louis in the future with high-speed rail of some sort.

Considering Florida’s Republican leadership talks big about bringing business to the state, but has a record worse than Georgia or Minnesota in attracting large companies. This is despite constant tax cuts and other abatement schemes to ostensibly attract relocations to the state.

Jeb Bush’s personal agenda derailed HSR and thwarted the will of Florida’s voters expressed clearly in 2000. The failure of the state to build a culture of attractive innovative entrepreneurship and business can be tied to this decision as well as the continued cuts in higher education along with politicization of colleges and universities in the state. It should be noted that Bush was enabled by many leading Democrats in his desire to kill High-speed rail. Palm Beach County Democrats including then Senate Minority Leader Ron Klein and County Commissioner Burt Aaronson actively campaigned against the bullet train concept and other Democrats across the state failed to challenge Bush’s assertions on the project.

Governor Rick Scott’s ideological dogma did not extend to creating perhaps 50,000 jobs and an environment for people to move quickly between major business centers of the state. Scott’s decision to kill the project in Florida, opened the door for several other states to grab the federal funding that was headed here and to gain a competitive edge against our state. Republicans as well as Democrats are working hard to find solutions that allow High-speed rail to be funded often in coordination with federal authorities and neighboring states.

We can thank Jeb Bush and Rick Scott for the continued lack of efficient transport options through our state, while others move quickly ahead of us.

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