Yesterday, Governor Scott of Florida announced he was rejecting federal funds for the construction of a high-speed rail system in Florida. For many of us involved with environment and planning, this was not a very positive development.
The current US transportation system is based on technologies developed generations ago. While our system works, it isn’t efficient, it is expensive to maintain, it is dangerous, and bad for the environment. Other regions of the world have recognized this and moved full speed ahead with innovative transportation projects. Anyone who has travelled to Japan or Western Europe is familiar with the range of transit options available to their citizens. Their projects didn’t emerge from nowhere. They were part of public/private partnerships that emerged decades ago to bring a new generation of transportation infrastructure to the public.
In the US, and particularly in Florida, we have not moved forward with innovative regional transit in any significant way in generations. The push for a regional high-speed rail system by the Obama administration was a step in the right direction.
According to the Tampa Tribune, one of the reasons that the Governor rejected the funds is because he was concerned about cost overruns. He used data from an anti-rail foundation to support his numbers. In addition, he stated that rail projects inflate ridership. In his evaluation, he only counted Florida residents and not the 50 million tourists that come to Florida each year. In short, I believe that his rejection is largely based on philosophical grounds rather than real data.
I can understand the libertarian argument that government should have a limited role in society. I can also understand the argument that we cannot continue to increase debt in our nation. However, I think it is unrealistic to expect that a modern high-speed rail system can be built without public investment. It just isn’t done anywhere. I think a better approach from a realistic libertarian viewpoint would be to ask how to use the forces of government to move this forward in a way that limits involvement as much as possible. As far as the debt goes, most of us do not move forward in our own lives with big projects that improve our situations without incurring some debt. While I certainly am sympathetic to those who argue against this project from a fiscal viewpoint, the benefits far outweigh concerns over the cost.
Societies thrive when they are dynamic, modern, creative, and innovative. People are moving from the suburbs into more dense urban spaces. We are driving less and expecting different transit options. Where would you want to live: a place with high-speed rail options for regional transit or a place without?
I believe that our Governor got this issue wrong. While he is certainly staying true to his overall campaign promises, I believe that his decision is not good for our state.