Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Opposing Rail is Politically Hazardous

In Central Florida's most interesting Congressional race this primary season, Rep. Sandy Adams' attacked Rep. John Mica for "wasting money on things like SunRail," which she called a "boondoggle" in incessant television advertising.  Last night, the voters rejected Adams' message and re-elected Mica by a wide margin:
U.S. House District 7 (Rep. Primary)
147 of 147 precincts reporting
John Mica 61.2% 32,073
Sandra Sandy Adams 38.8% 20,370

Matthew Falconer ran for Orange County Mayor in 2010, stating the race was a "referendum" on SunRail.  Matt came in last place in a four-candidate primary, his anti-SunRail stance winning him just 15% of the vote against three pro-SunRail candidates.

In the spring of 2011, soon after Governor Rick Scott rejected Federal high speed rail funds and a proposed agreement under which the State would have no financial obligation for operating costs, his popularity plummeted to record lows.  Another link HERE.  More than a year later, our Governor remains fighting in recovery mode. 

When Florida Secretary of Transportation Ananth Prasad toured Central Florida communities before approving of SunRail, large pro-rail crowds met him at the Maitland and Orange County meetings I attended. The opposition was vocal but insignificant.  Having learned from his High Speed Rail experience, Governor Scott realized that the political cost of killing SunRail would far exceed the political cost of disappointing his anti-transit Tea Party base.   

Other factors certainly played a role in each instance described above.  However, I-4 is too crowded, and people spend too much time away from their families commuting to and from work or driving across the State.  The cost of building roads far exceeds the cost of building the same capacity in rail, and rail, if done correctly like Amtrak's Acela route, can even capture huge market share and turn a profit.  If I were a political consultant, and my client told me he or she wanted to run against rail in Florida, I would suggest caution.