Midterm elections may reroute Florida high speed rail project

Commuters wait to board a tube train in Clapham Common station in London, England.

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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: It isn't only the future of health care and taxes that may be decided in these midterm elections. One of the Obama administration's signature initiatives, high speed rail, may also be rerouted, come November. From the Transportation Nation reporting project at WNYC, Andrea Bernstein reports.


ANDREA BERNSTEIN: When President Obama announced in his State of the Union he'd be putting $8 billion into high speed rail projects, it seemed like a winning idea.

BARACK OBAMA: Tomorrow I'll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act.

He announced $1 billion to bring a line from Tampa to Orlando in a key swing state. The political calculation: Who could oppose thousands of construction jobs, and a cool new technology that would put the state on the fast track to economic growth?

SCOTT WALKER: I'd rather take that money and fix Wisconsin's roads and bridges.

Turns out several Republicans running for Governor don't much like high speed rail. Like Wisconsin's Scott Walker, who says high speed rail construction will be a drain on the state's taxpayers.

WALKER: They're going to have to spend up to $10 million a year just to keep a train running they may never ride.

That argument is being picked up by Republican candidates for Governor in Florida and Ohio, as well. Petra Todorovich, director of the planning group America 2050, says, after the elections, some Governors may give their money back.

PETRA TODOROVICH: That's maybe not a bad thing in the long run if that funding can go to states where the political support is strong.

And there are Republicans who support high speed rail. Florida Congressman John Mica is one. He would chair the House Transportation Committee if Republicans take over next year. Speaking at a high speed rail conference this spring, he said he's criticized some projects.

JOHN MICA: But I'm also a strong supporter of cost effective transportation alternatives.

There's one other Republican who adores high speed rail: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former congressman from Peoria. "Look," the wrote in his blog earlier this month, "the people vowing to send this train back to the station are missing the boat," LaHood was hired, in part, to smooth relationships with Republicans. Come January, he may need to.

I'm Andrea Bernstein for Marketplace.

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