High-Speed Rail: Gift Horse or White Elephant?

February 18th, 2011 1:15 PM

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) "slaughter[ed]" the "gift horse" of a federal grant for a Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail project,  Time magazine's Michael Grunwald complained a few days ago.

Grunwald isn't alone among liberal journalists who believe high-speed rail to be a no-brainer, a sure-fire "investment" in economic growth.

But is it really, especially when that money could be plugged into other infrastructure investments that make more long-term sense economically?

For his part, Gov. Scott has suggested he'd welcome federal money for port upgrades in Miami and Jacksonville, something the feds are unwilling to do.

But a story posted Thursday at the website for the Miami Herald could highlight the wisdom of plunking money into port upgrades as opposed to high-speed rail:

Shrugging off the recession doldrums, international trade through South Florida ports last year surged by nearly 21 percent, smashing all records.


The Miami Customs District, which includes airports and seaports from Palm Beach County to Key West, set records for total trade ($95.4 billion), exports ($58.8 billion) and imports ($36.6 billion) in 2010, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data released this week by WorldCity, a Coral Gables media company.




As the economic crisis gripped world markets in 2009, trade with nearly all South’s Florida major trading partners fell off and overall trade slipped below $80 billion — a drop of 12.3 percent compared to 2008 when previous trade records were set.


But Latin American markets, which have traditionally been South Florida’s top trading partners, rebounded more quickly last year than had been anticipated.

Of course, a conservative argument can be made that federal money should neither go to high-speed rail nor port upgrades in Florida. But certainly it would seem Gov. Scott has in view a higher return on investment, as it were, with money put towards improving Florida's seaports rather than gambling on high-speed rail netting an increase in tourism sufficiently enough to justify the long-term costs.

At any rate, I would be pleasantly surprised if the national media gives both sides of the high-speed rail argument, rather than portray Scott as a fool for spurning the federal government.