High-speed rail hangover: Tampa Bay in Florida continues to miss out on U.S. DOT money

November 11, 2015

It sure was a bitter setback last month when Pinellas County learned it was denied a $19.1 million federal grant for the Pinellas Trail.Website Insert Keep Your Money In-State copy

The 47-mile bike trail seems like just the type of project the U.S. Department of Transportation likes to finance through a program started in 2009 to provide support for transit, bike, pedestrian, rail, ports and other type of infrastructure not typically funded through regular work plans (read roads).

Yet it was the fourth time the trail applied for the money and got rejected.

What gives?

Well, Pinellas shouldn’t take it personally.

It seems like it’s not just Pinellas that struggles to tap the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grant program.

The entire state of Florida hasn’t done well, either.

Since 2009, the program has allocated $4.6 billion in seven rounds of funding. Florida has raked in $140 million of that funding, which is the ninth most of any state.

Not bad, right? Actually, given that Florida is third in population, that level of funding is awful. In fact, per capita, Florida ranks 50th (only Wisconsin and Puerto Rico fared worse) in getting TIGER money.

But there’s a big reason why Florida isn’t getting TIGER money. And that reason is Gov. Rick Scott.

TIGER grants would have financed the high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando, but Scott rejected the $2 billion in federal money in 2011. Both he and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin had replaced governors who had lobbied for the money. Both won office riding Tea Party resentment of Washington spending. Scott was non-sensical in explaining why he was rejecting the money. He cited incorrect numbers from the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think thank financed by Big Oil, that said the project would cost state taxpayers $1 billion to operate. False, said PolitiFact.

Read the full story from writer Michael Van Sickler in the Tampa Bay Times by clicking here.


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