High-speed rail advocates say they have way to save project

TAMPA — High-speed rail advocates on Monday outlined a plan to form a partnership of local governments that would assume responsibility for the project Gov. Rick Scott says he does not want.

"We are working together to keep the high-speed rail plans alive in Florida and keep the thousands of jobs right here," U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said during a 10 a.m. conference call.

On Sunday, Scott said he would be willing to look at a plan, but expressed doubts that it could alleviate any financial risk to taxpayers. The plan outlined Monday morning relies on state law allowing local governments to form coalitions.

Officials in Tampa, Orlando and Lakeland have expressed interest.

The group, technically known as a "non recourse entity," would become a subgrantee to the state and receive the $2.4 billion in federal funding then put the project out to bid.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio stressed it would be a "privatized" project that does not carry financial cost.

"There is a way clear here," she said. The state would have to grant the new entity the right of way along the Orlando-Tampa route, and provide technical expertise.

The idea would fail without Scott's approval and partnership from the state DOT, Tampa city attorney Chip Fletcher conceded.

Backers hope to have the plan before Scott in the next day or so.

Meanwhile, supporters of high-speed rail will rally Monday in Tampa in hopes of persuading Scott on the issue.

Former Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena is helping organize a "Rally for High Speed Rail" in conjunction with the group Livable Tampa Roundtable. The rally is scheduled for noon at City Hall Plaza, at the southeast corner of East Kennedy Boulevard and Franklin Street.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who extracted the small measure of openness from Scott at the Daytona 500 on Sunday, planned to press the governor again today at an event in Melbourne.

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