By Kevin Derby Sunshine State News
All Aboard Florida is drawing the concern of two Florida congressmen who joined together, despite partisan differences, in asking the federal government to conduct a study to see if its plan to connect Orlando to Miami by high-speed rail is viable.
U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., wrote U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro on Thursday, demanding the Government Accountability Office (GAO) launch a study to see how viable All Aboard Florida’s proposed line is.
“It is my understanding that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) – an operating entity of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) – will soon issue a determination about providing a loan through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program (RRIF) to All Aboard Florida (AAF),” Posey wrote on Thursday. “Serving in the Florida Legislature, and now in Congress, I have consistently opposed taxpayer subsidies for rail initiatives. I am therefore concerned about the potential exposure to taxpayers of all such projects including, but not limited to, the AAF application.”
Posey pointed to how the GAO handled Xpress West, a company which was hoping to rely on federal loans to build high-speed rail from California to Las Vegas with possible extensions to Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City on the table.
“It is also my understanding that the GAO conducted a review of the Xpress West high-speed rail loan application when it was before the DOT in 2013,” Posey wrote. “It was reported that the Xpress West proposal was rejected due to concerns about the viability of the loan following the GAO review. I believe it is well-advised to have similar reviews for all significant loans where taxpayers are on the hook for any potential losses. As such, it is prudent for the GAO to evaluate the specific application by AAF.
“I write to request that the GAO conduct a review of AAF similar to the GAO review conducted for Xpress West, examining the potential risk and cost to taxpayers, the nature of such a loan including possible interest rates that would be appropriate for this particular loan, and whether or not private financing could be sustained for this project,” Posey concluded. “We have a duty to protect taxpayers, and this evaluation will help us uphold that duty.”
Posey was quickly supported by U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., who also sent Dodaro a letter on Thursday with the same request.
“All Aboard Florida’s (AAF) plan to run 32 additional trains daily through the Palm Beaches and the Treasure Coast of Florida poses significant threats to our community's public safety, economy, and our way of life,” Murphy insisted. “Although initially sold as a ‘private’ project, AAF is actually seeking more than a billion dollars in taxpayer-backed loans from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Before the FRA risks public money on this project, it is imperative that AAF’s relevant financial viability be thoroughly reviewed.
“I applaud my colleague, Congressman Bill Posey, for joining the thousands of voices concerned about this financially risky and potentially disruptive project, and I fully support his call for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine AAF’s true cost to taxpayers,” Murphy added. “A comprehensive evaluation of AAF’s viability is necessary to ensure that our tax dollars are not used as an irresponsible handout to a company that could not be profitable on its own. I thank you for your office’s efforts to eliminate government waste, and I look forward to working with you to make this request a reality.”