In a shortsighted and cheap politically motivated move, Governor Rick Scott decided Wednesday that he would reject the $2.4 Billion in funding the state had already received from the US DOT, and in so doing set the state back by over 20,000 jobs. The initial Tampa to Orlando link, an 84 mile spur, would have required a $300M contribution from the state, created an estimated 23,000 jobs, and would have set the foundation for an expanded statewide network of HSR.
While not perfect, we here at Transit Miami have been strong advocates of the Tampa/Orlando HSR route, viewing it as the first step toward creating a viable, sustainable, and long-term alternative to the congested roadways and airports throughout the state. Coupled with smart growth oriented land-use policies and an investment in public transportation, HSR had the potential to reshape the Florida landscape from one of unchecked suburban sprawl and congestion, to livable, multi-modal, communities ready for future population growth and able to co
mpete on a global scale.
Apparently when the Governor said that he wanted to, “Make Florida the Job Creation Model for the Nation” he was just kidding.
The truth is Scott has zero intention of providing any solutions that could serve as a model for the nation- and he is going to need those 20,000 jobs he just sent to California to dig him out of the hole he is burying himself in. Just look at his latest rhetoric and policies; they imitate those of his Republican colleagues who pledge fiscal responsibility by reducing municipal programs while remaining oblivious to the true ailments of our government or the role it should play in supporting both businesses and the citizenry of the state. How can he honestly claim that he favors job creation while making decisions that send tens of thousands of high paying construction and engineering jobs to other parts of the country?
Falling in step with his Republican counterparts in Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Ohio, Governor Scott’s latest decision has shown Floridians that his policies add nothing of value to our state and perpetuate the ideological thinking of the GOP on transportation infrastructure. The traditional GOP economic lens, likely employed by Gov Scott when analyzing the cost-benefit of transit is apparent in this report by the South Florida Business Journal which notes that “…that the state subsidizes Tri-Rail $34.6 million a year, while passenger revenue covers only $10.4 million of the $64 million annual operating budget.” Comparatively, we spend tens of billions of dollars on highway construction and maintenance of which only a fraction of that amount come from user fees and tax. The economic boogeyman conservatives use against transit projects ignore the facts – we spend more than 4 times what we bring in from car user fees and taxes on highway projects, with diminishing returns on those investments on the land-use and development side.
Despite Scott’s self proclaimed “keen business sense,” his myopic focus on the economics of the initial HSR phase illustrates a clear lack of vision. HSR is intended to be built out over multiple phases, with a second phase connecting Orlando with Miami. The economic vitality of the system is hinged on the completion of the network as a whole and not just the 84 mile segment linking Tampa and Orlando. Duh.
If a cornerstone of the Governor’s agenda is truly job creation then transit should be high on his list of priorities. Public transportation systems are not only more efficient, and cost effective than highways, their construction creates more jobs than highway construction projects -to say nothing of the increased tax base and investment that occurs because of the land-use patterns that accompany transit. Here are some other important facts for our Tea Party inspired governor (and republican legislature) to ponder regarding investment in HSR:
- A recent report from the Smart Growth Alliance (SGA), a national coalition of state and local organizations working for smart growth across the country, analyzed the effect of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) on job creation. The SGA report concludes that for every ARRA dollar spent on public transportation (e.g. HSR), it yielded 70% more job hours than ARRA dollar spent on highways.
- In analyzing the effect of HSR on the local economy, the Florida Department of Transportation noted that in addition to the 10,000 direct construction related jobs to be created between 2012 and 2014, the project would have created 23,000 job-years of direct construction jobs and more than 48,000 job-years of work through both direct and spin-off employment during the four-year construction period. FDOT further estimates the system would employ approximately 600 people once operation starts and another 500 indirectly on an on-going basis.
- The Economic Development Research Group, in a report to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), notes that the national rate “…can vary from of 24,000 to 41,000 jobs per billion dollars of spending…” The report attributes the broad range to the disparity of jobs created as a result of capital investments in vehicles and facilities vs. spending on transit system operations.
- The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) even touts the benefits of HSR, noting that $87.2B is lost annually due to congestion in the United States, equating to 4.2B hours of lost productivity, and an additional $41B is lost annually due to air traffic congestion.
The economic impact of this decision reaches beyond the current economic climate. Consider the upcoming oil crisis and how defunt our transportation network will be without alternatives. If we thought that the housing bubble and banking crisis was bad for our economy, what do you think is going to happen to our society when gas prices hit $5 , $6, $7 / gallon? Forget about the near ‘depression’ we just avoided – the bedlam that will result will be unlike anything any of us have ever experienced.
The inverse relationship between gas prices and consumer confidence shouldn’t come as surprise given how dependent the average Floridian has become on oil (and by extension a vehicle) for transportation. Given this relationship, where consumers have few alternatives, oil becomes a further inelastic commodity – further restricting our ability to compete in the global economy. It is not a question of if – but when the shit hits the proverbial fan we will have shortsighted and lackluster leaders like Governor Rick Scott to thank. We leave you with this food for thought from Shell Energy (not traditionally a bastion of tree-hugging liberals) from their 2011 report ”Shell Energy Scenarios to 2050: An Era of Volatile Transitions”
In broad-brush terms, natural innovation and competition could spur improvements in energy efficiency to moderate underlying demand by about 20% over this time. Ordinary rates of supply growth — taking into account technological, geological, competitive, financial and political realities — could naturally boost energy production by about 50%. But this still leaves a gap between business as- usual supply and business-as-usual demand of around 400 exajoules/year – the size of the whole industry in 2000. This gap – this Zone of Uncertainty – will have to be bridged by some combination of extraordinary demand moderation and extraordinary production acceleration.
Supply will struggle to keep pace with demand. By the end of the coming decade, growth in the production of easily accessible oil and gas will not match the projected rate of demand growth. While abundant coal exists in many parts of the world, transportation difficulties and environmental degradation ultimately pose limits to its growth. Meanwhile, alternative energy sources such as biofuels may become a much more significant part of the energy mix — but there is no “silver bullet” that will completely resolve supply-demand tensions.
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