Florida’s Supreme Court on Friday dealt a serious blow to President Obama’s $53 billion high-speed rail pet project. The seven jurists sided unanimously with Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s right to forgo $2.4 billion in federal taxpayer-backed grants the Obama administration wanted to blow on an 84-mile train track linking Tampa and Orlando. More and more, Republican governors are rejecting this type of federal bribe in the name of fiscal responsibility.
That’s the right move considering the “high-speed” promises don’t hold up to scrutiny. Although the Florida trains were to have been capable of hitting 168 mph, project documents show the average nonstop speed would actually be 100 mph. That figure doesn’t reflect the actual average, which would be much lower after taking into account the need to grind to a halt at each of the five stations along the proposed route. Driving would’ve been cheaper and faster for most travelers.
That’s why projections of 2.4 million riders and $40-46 million in annual revenue were mostly fantasy. Yet even taken at face value, a 2002 pro-rail analysis by the Florida Transportation Association estimated operating costs, adjusted to 2010 dollars, would have put the program $10 million in the red each year. Mr. Scott didn’t want to saddle Sunshine State taxpayers with these bills. Instead, he thought money would be more wisely spent widening I-95, I-4 and I-275.
Gov. John Kasich won his election in November with a promise to reject $1.2 billion for a high-speed rail project between Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Mr. Kasich noted that, according to project estimates, the 258-mile train journey would have taken 6.5 hours - 19th-century speeds for something sold as a 21st-century idea. “It doesn’t work, we don’t know what it’s going to cost, we don’t know how we’re going to operate it and we don’t know who’s going to get on the train,” Mr. Kasich said in a September campaign debate. “When I’m governor, the 39-mile-an-hour ‘high-speed’ passenger train is dead.”
In October, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie likewise rejected federal money for the Hudson Express ARC rail tunnel project on the grounds that likely overruns would put Garden State taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions. “For me, it’s a dollars and cents issue,” said Mr. Christie. “I cannot place upon the citizens of the state of New Jersey an open-ended letter of credit, and that’s what this project represents. … This is how we got ourselves into the third-highest debt load in America. This is how we got ourselves into the awful fiscal mess we’re in.”
The White House doesn’t bother itself over such consequences. It thinks of Uncle Sam as a Santa Claus who redistributes gifts to a country of children. Mr. Obama wants a new train set, but it doesn’t matter if nobody uses it. The administration throws billions of our money to subsidize useless electric cars like the GM Volt and the Nissan Leaf, yet last month these battery-powered appliances flopped with only 281 and 67 vehicles sold respectively. Creating money-losing, low-speed cars and trains isn’t about meeting real needs; it’s about appearances. America should be grateful that a new generation of straight-talking governors aren’t going to let their constituents be railroaded.
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By Elaine Donnelly
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