By Matthew Falconer
Our government “leaders” have the public relations machine working overtime to sell the Florida taxpayers on the benefits of high speed rail, helped by millions of dollars from foreign companies angling to build the rail system.
But instead of real numbers our government has exaggerated the ridership and intentionally underestimated the cost to the Florida taxpayer.
Transit expert Wendell Cox did a study on the Orlando-Tampa rail project way back in 1998. Operating costs have skyrocketed since high speed rail was first proposed so our government has simply increased the number of riders they estimate will use the train. They now “estimate”2.5 million riders every year despite the fact that only 150,000 people take the bus from Orlando to Tampa each year.
Revenue projections by the Federal government are at least 35% lower than our “estimates.” Our leaders assume 95% of the riders will be people who give up the freedom of their cars to take the train. These forecasts are far from accurate because people can drive to Tampa faster and cheaper in their own cars on their own schedule.
When you factor the “average” cost overruns in rail projects (43%) and combine them with “realistic” ridership projections the Tampa to Orlando high speed rail project may cost the Florida taxpayer $6 to $11 billion over the next 30 years.
And this project is just the first of a dozen rail projects planned for a State that is already $38 billion in debt and faces a $2.5 billion budget shortfall this year. And if Florida has just one major hurricane next year we are looking at a $15 billion shortfall in our State fund.
Rail and high speed rail is the most expensive policy decision our leaders will make this year. With 12% of our state’s workforce unemployed and a quarter of homes in foreclosure this is the worst possible time to make an expensive policy mistake. Please contact your elected officials and ask them to stop spending money like we do not have to pay it back.