The Curious Liberal Opposition to Florida Passenger Rail

Image credit: All Aboard Florida

Florida liberals are opposing a passenger rail project despite their stated goals of reduced fossil fuel consumption and increased mass transit. At the same time, conservatives who usually oppose taxpayer-funded mass transit projects are rallying behind the All Aboard Florida high-speed rail plan.

Democrat gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist has upped the ante of this curious role reversal, launching political attacks on Republican Gov. Rick Scott for supporting the All Aboard Florida plan. The reasons behind this apparent flip in the political landscape are complex and fascinating.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected an Obama Administration proposal to spend $2.5 billion on a passenger rail line between Tampa and Orlando in 2011, resulting in torrents of outrage and attacks from Democrat politicians and the liberal media. Scott said the proposal would cost taxpayers too much, especially considering the project might go over its $2.5 billion estimated construction costs and train service would rely on perpetual state subsidies even after the tracks were built.

Gov. Scott’s concerns seem well justified after a similar proposal approved in California has run staggeringly above its estimated budget, failed to meet promises on quality of service, and is now in jeopardy of having its taxpayer funding revoked.

By contrast, the All Aboard Florida proposal seeks no taxpayer funding. This is the key reason why Scott and Republicans who opposed the federal rail project support All Aboard Florida.

All Aboard Florida seeks to operate high-speed rail service between Miami and Orlando, which would provide commuters a more environmentally-friendly alternative to airplane and automobile travel between the two cities. Rail service would reduce pollution from vehicles and reduce highway congestion.

Because All Aboard Florida would operate its rail service on existing tracks, the project would create minimal disturbance to the environment. Utilizing existing tracks is also a key component to keeping the project affordable and not having to seek taxpayer subsidies.

Suddenly, however, All Aboard Florida’s high-speed rail proposal is on the receiving end of vociferous opposition from Democrat politicians and the liberal media. The stated reason for this opposition is people who live near the existing tracks say they don’t want to have to deal with the inconvenience of more frequent train traffic.

The tracks, however, have been in place for decades. Many, if not most, of the residents near the tracks purchased their homes knowing the tracks were already there and could conceivably host more frequent train traffic. Still, Democrats and the Florida media have blasted Scott for supporting a rail project that would disturb landowners near the tracks.

The Tampa Bay Times called the All Aboard Florida project a “boondoggle,” even though the project seeks no taxpayer funding. Curiously, the Times did not view the heavily subsidized Obama high-speed rail project as a boondoggle, and instead called Scott “soulless,” “cold-hearted,” and “callous” for refusing to commit taxpayer dollars to the government project.

Charlie Crist chimed in last week, stating, “I have serious concerns about the whole [All Aboard Florida] thing. We have a governor who turned down the fast, clean rail and now seems to embrace wholeheartedly the slower, noisy – what is it 32 trips a day – rail down the East Coast. And it seems like a lot of people on the East Coast aren’t real interested and aren’t all aboard.”

Crist’s remarks aside, All Aboard Florida will be just as “clean” as the Obama high-speed rail proposal. Unlike the Obama proposal, the All Aboard Florida plan won’t create environmental damage to undisturbed Florida lands. The Obama proposal, which would have built new tracks, would have disturbed residents who had no advance reason to believe they might be subjected to a noisy rail project.

Additionally, Crist inadvertently acknowledged with his “32 trips a day” comment that the All Aboard Florida project will actually meet a market demand for passenger rail service.

The support offered by conservative Republicans for the All Aboard Florida high-speed rail project appears consistent with conservative values: the project seeks no taxpayer funding and would also present clear environmental benefits. By contrast, the opposition presented by liberal Democrats appears to be nothing more than an illustration of crass politics and knee-jerk opposition to anything a Republican governor supports.

The same arguments against All Aboard Florida can and have been made against the Obama proposal. People who live near the Obama administration’s proposed Tampa-to-Orlando route protested the disturbance to their communities. The difference, however, is opponents to the construction of an entire new network of tracks seem to have more valid arguments than the opponents of allowing a new passenger train to operate trains on existing tracks.

So now even Florida’s political left opposes high-speed rail in the state. These are strange times we live in.