Plans underway for high-speed rail from Orlando to Tampa without taxpayer dollars

Florida accepting private sector proposals for passenger rail

(Brian Blanco / Getty Images)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Almost seven years after Gov. Rick Scott rejected federal funding for a passenger rail from Tampa to Orlando, he said one is in the works again, but this time, it won't cost tax payers a dime.

Scott announced Friday that the Florida Department of Transportation and the Central Florida Expressway Authority received an unsolicited proposal to lease property owned by Florida and CFX to build a high-speed train along I-4 from Orlando to Tampa.

"The department is committed to creating a robust transportation system that meets Florida’s current and future needs," FDOT Secretary Mike Dew said. "Privately funded passenger rail will provide residents and visitors a transportation choice for one of the busiest corridors in the state."

FDOT will soon begin accepting proposals from private companies interested in developing a high-speed rail. After the request for proposals is opened, companies will have 120 days to submit porposals.

"The request is for those interested in leasing FDOT and CFX owned rights-of-way to establish privately funded passenger rail service between Orlando and Tampa," according to Scott's news release.

The surprise announcement comes almost seven years after Scott passed on more than $2 billion in federal dollars to build an 84-mile rail between the two Florida cities. Scott rejected the project because, he said, it would have cost Florida taxpayers millions for decades to come.

Less than an hour after the Friday announcement, Sen. Bill Nelson weighed in and said Scott's conclusion that the government-backed rail would have been a burden for Florida's taxpayers.

“Gov. Scott had an opportunity to do high-speed rail eight years ago, but refused – falsely telling Florida taxpayers that they would have been on the hook for millions," Nelson said in a statement. "That wasn’t true then, and it’s still not true now. The federal government would have paid 90 percent of the cost to complete this project, while private companies would have paid the rest. And the governor’s own FDOT had a study that showed it would have made money in its very first year.” 

Scott is running against Nelson in 2018 for the U.S. Senate seat he currently holds.

The Scott for Florida campaign hit back at Nelson saying the 2011 project could have been costly to taxpayers, citing similar initiatives in California and Connecticut.

"If Nelson had his way, Floridians would be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars. Gov. Scott fought to protect taxpayer dollars and worked to find a creative solution that would allow for private investment in the high-speed rail project," Scott for Florida Press Secretary Lauren Schenone said in an email.