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High speed rail not dead yet: $2.4 billion open for bids, LaHood says

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood threw a lifeline to local Florida governments eager for a bullet train connecting Tampa and Orlando by putting the $2.4 billion in federal money originally earmarked for the state available through a competitive process.

That means a coalition of local governments, including Tampa, Orlando, Lakeland and Miami, could attempt to win the funds to build the 84-mile line. They would have to compete with other states for the money.

Gov. Rick Scott on Feb. 16 rejected the federal money that would nearly cover the bullet train's construction costs, saying he believed the project would be a burden on Florida taxpayers. He's still against it, he said Friday.

"We're past high speed rail," he said, reiterating his position that the focus should be on ports.

The news from LaHood, who in the past has diverted money rejected by states directly to other projects, gave hope to long-time proponents of the rail line.

"If there's any opportunity for us to revive high speed rail and bring it to Florida we should explore it," said Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. "It's a little early to say. I need more facts. But in talking to our attorneys about it we have felt all along that we could create an entity between the cities that could receive the funds."

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Ray Chiaramonte

The fundamental reality is that the High Speed Rail Project to connect Tampa to Orlando is the best in the country, the flatest land, the most engineered and ready to build, the only one that connects to the largest tourist area in the US, the cheapest to build, and the most potential to show off what this country can do it we put our resources to work. That is why the federal government to trying to help us, there is no quick reasonable alternative in the nation. The experts and the private sector investors know this, too bad politicians don't.

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