States compete for Florida’s spurned rail funds

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Almost half of the states, along with the national rail service Amtrak, are eager to get the funds for building a high-speed train network that Florida recently rebuffed, the Transportation Department said on Wednesday.

Altogether, 24 states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak submitted requests for the $2.4 billion that Florida’s new Republican governor, Rick Scott, turned down on the belief high-speed rail is a waste.

Eleven of the states seeking the funds have Republican governors, including Wisconsin, which earlier spurned high-speed rail initiatives.

A regional rail authority in Florida that was expected to bypass Scott and apply for the funds on behalf of the state did not.

The Department of Transportation did not set a date for when the money would be awarded.

Florida had received the money, which came mostly from the 2009 federal stimulus plan, for preliminary work on a proposed east-west line linking Orlando and Tampa. Supporters had said the funding was essential for job creation in the state, which has been hobbled by the housing bust and recession.

Since the November election, when conservative Republicans took control of governors’ mansions and state legislatures largely on criticism of President Barack Obama’s policies, creating a system of U.S. “bullet trains” has become the subject of political lashings.

The fight has been particularly divisive in Wisconsin where the new Tea Party-backed governor, Scott Walker, suspended work on high-speed rail and then turned around to ask for a share of Florida’s rejected money.

In December, Walker said he preferred putting the state’s allotment of high-speed rail funds toward road repairs. The Obama administration then rescinded the allotment, saying it must be spent as the stimulus plan law intended.

Now, Walker is seeking part of Florida’s spurned allocation to make more than $150 million of upgrades to the Hiawatha line and to work on a maintenance facility in Milwaukee.

Obama has proposed spending $53 billion over six years to further existing high-speed rail projects and launch new ones. Leading Republicans in Congress, though, doubt the potential of high-speed rail and are wary of the massive capital investment in an era marked by budget shortfalls.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and John Crawley; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

States compete for Florida’s spurned rail funds