Despite fresh uncertainty about funding high speed rail in this country, the powerful House transportation chairman said Friday that the Tampa-to-Orlando project should proceed - as long as private interests pick up any costs not covered by a federal grant.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, reiterated in an interview before addressing a statewide transportation group that the $2.4 billion the Obama administration has allocated is all the public money that should go toward the $2.7 billion project.
"I don't see any problem," Mica said, regarding another challenge raised this week that could derail the project. Conservative House members on Thursday introduced a bill that seeks to trim non-defense federal discretionary spending to 2006 levels, which could doom federal money currently set aside for high-speed rail.
Mica said he and Florida Gov. Rick Scott agree that no more tax funds - referring to a possible $300 million state investment required for Florida to receive the full federal allocation - should be considered for the project. The financial opportunities are great enough, Mica said, that any private companies picked to build and operate the high-speed line should be willing to invest in the project and make up any cost overruns.
He said state planners remain bullish on ridership projections, in particular on the segment between Orlando International Airport, the Orange County Convention Center and Walt Disney World.
Mica went on to tell the gathering of private business and state transportation officials in Orlando that clearing obstacles to infrastructure projects that create jobs would be the key focus of his early tenure as chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
The congressman made a point about U.S. transportation deficiencies by saying he plans to board a "Soviet-style train" in riding Amtrak around the country to gather ideas for improving the way Washington handles transportation investment, which he said must proceed with private sector partnerships.