Times editorial: Rick Scott must stop misleading voters about rail

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A significant, privately funded transportation project, which spans 256 miles of rail and affecting several Florida communities, should be conducted in the open, according to a Tampa Bay Times editorial published Wednesday.

Nevertheless, when it comes to inquiries about All Aboard Florida, Gov. Rick Scott and his administration has either deflected questions or outright misled people over what they know — fueling public mistrust over the project and state government in general.

This secretive attitude only goes to further Scott’s hypocrisy on passenger rail.

Floridians deserve answers, says the Times’ editorial board.

All Aboard Florida has sought special treatment from Scott’s office nearly from the start, soon after the governor took office in 2010. Adam Hollingsworth, Scott’s former chief of staff, was instrumental in choosing his transition team — including the transportation secretary — and later went to work for Parallel Infrastructure, the company owned by Florida East Coast Industries.

Hollingsworth laid the groundwork of support for Florida East Coast Industries, owner of All Aboard Florida, which is now actively pushing the Miami-to-Orlando rail project.

In another eyebrow-raising move, Scott signed the 2014-15 Florida budget, with $230 million in state investments benefiting rail, including money to develop rail “quiet zones” along the proposed All Aboard Florida route and a new multi-function terminal at Orlando International Airport.

Scott insists All Aboard Florida is unlike than the high-speed rail project between Tampa and Orlando he vetoed – with support from Hollingsworth – as well as the $2.4 billion in federal funds. All Aboard Florida is a privately sponsored project, the administration points out, completely ignoring the $1.5 billion requested in federal loans and prospective state grants.

The Times notes that Scott is “so desperate to maintain that fiction” the state Department of Transportation cautioned All Aboard Florida not to apply for state grants; if they did,  requests would be rejected.

Rail service to Orlando is now delayed until at least 2016. One possible reason: the $213 million state-financed terminal may not be ready before then.

Scott rejected federal money due to his feelings over the Obama administration, yet approved the expensive SunRail project in Orlando under pressure from Central Florida legislators. In addition, he signaled modest support for substructure investment in Tampa Bay’s Howard Franklin Bridge to accommodate a future rail line bridging Tampa and Pinellas County.

At the same time, the governor continues to deceive voters over the “privately funded” status of All About Florida.

“The least Scott could do is be open about All Aboard Florida’s issues,” the editorial concludes, “and stop misleading voters about its public cost.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.