As Maitland officials were in flight to Washington, D.C., for their annual meetings with members of Congress, a bomb went off — Gov. Rick Scott rejected federal funding for the high-speed rail project.
When Mayor Howard Schieferdecker and Councilors Linda Frosh and Phil Bonus landed, Florida’s congressional representatives were befuddled and scrambling to save the project, which would run from Orlando to Tampa with a later extension to Miami.
The city officials met as scheduled with Sen. Bill Nelson and Reps. Corrine Brown and John Mica, but the rail issue cast a shadow over everything.
“It was really sad to see all of their hard work of all those years falling apart right in front of them,” Frosch said. “We support them in getting this back on track.”
Bonus said Nelson was thinking on his feet. “He was tightly clenching his teeth, but with laser focus discussing orderly ways to save the funding for the state.”
Bonus said Brown couldn’t find the right words to describe how she felt about the governor’s decision. “This is a woman who is virtually never at a loss for words,” he said. She called Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer on speakerphone in front of them and asked, “Why? What can we do?”
When they met with Mica around 5 p.m., the congressman was “consumed” by the issue, Bonus said. He had spoken with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and with Scott himself and was about to do a round of media interviews.
“He was clearly miffed by the actions of Gov. Scott,” Bonus said, “but he appeared undaunted.”
At one point, Mica slapped Bonus’ knee and said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got more ideas,” Bonus said. One Mica proposal has construction moving forward with the Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World portion of the rail line because it would be the most profitable.
The members of Congress not only allowed Maitland officials to witness their strategy sessions. The members asked Maitland officials what they thought about the decision and what they could do to help.
“We were engaged by them and were part of the solution process,” Bonus said.
They left D.C. that night with a commitment to get as many cities, counties and businesses to show support for the high-speed rail and SunRail projects by writing to Scott. On Wednesday, Maitland City Council passed an emergency resolution in support of the project.
“The governor hasn’t agreed to SunRail yet either — that’s still on the block,” said Schieferdecker, who’s spoken with Winter Park Mayor Ken Bradley and Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett about passing a similar resolution.
Bonus said that not accepting the federal aid — which would pay for 90 percent of the project — is like “cutting off your entire leg because you banged your baby toe.”
Schieferdecker agreed, saying that the $2.4 billion won’t return to the U.S. Treasury — it will go to another state and take with it thousands of jobs that Florida sorely needs. They advocated that the governor allow Congress to find solutions to his concerns, such as cost overruns.
Frosch agreed. “I’m very disappointed in our governor. He needs to rethink his decision.”