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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."