Gov. Rick Scott’s drive to attract more people and businesses to Florida means the need for lots of cement and asphalt.
Jim Boxold, who Scott promoted to transportation secretary last month, expressed confidence Thursday that Scott’s $9.9 billion budget request for the Florida Department of Transportation won’t get bottled-necked by lawmakers putting together a spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The request includes billions of dollars for roads, bridges, seaports and aviation projects.
“The Legislature has a number of challenges this year, with Amendment 1 (a voter-approved measure requiring environmental spending) and other competing funding priorities, but I feel very confident how we’re positioned,” Boxold said during the Florida Chamber Foundation’s 2015 Transportation Summit at the Honey Lake Plantation in Greenville.
The transportation funding was included in a $77 billion budget proposal Scott rolled out Wednesday. Lawmakers will consider the proposal this spring as they draw up a final spending plan.
“Strategic improvements to our transportation infrastructure will position Florida as a global leader for economic growth,” Scott said in a prepared statement Wednesday.
The money sought for the Florida Department of Transportation is actually down from a record $10.1 billion package that lawmakers approved for the current year, which ends June 30. Funding for transportation has grown from $7 billion when Scott first took office in 2011.
Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson expressed support for Scott’s efforts by equating the need to invest in transportation with staying ahead of water and energy demands to maintain the quality of life in Florida.
“We’re growing with the number of visitors, we’re growing with the number of residents. We’re trying to recruit more companies,” Wilson said. “If I was here today to try to find a way to stop the smart growth of Florida, I would either figure a way to mess with your water, your energy or your other infrastructure, let’s call it transportation.”
Visit Florida President Will Seccombe said the state’s transportation needs must keep up if Florida is going to reach and surpass Scott’s goal of 100 million visitors a year. The state estimated that 94.7 million tourists visited Florida in 2013. It also estimated the state was 2.5 percent ahead of that record-setting number through the first nine months of 2014.
The $9.9 billion proposal would fund the Department of Transportation’s overall operations. Included in that is $3.8 billion for highway projects, $109.6 million for seaport upgrades, $350 million for aviation and $242.6 million for the repair or replacement of 108 bridges.
The proposed port funding is down from $139 million in the current fiscal year. Still, Scott campaigned last year on reaching $1 billion in ports funding by the time he leaves office as a way to attract anticipated growth in global maritime trade when the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2016.
Counting this year’s funding, the state has already spent $721 million on upgrades at the state’s 15 seaports.
Among the key road projects that would be funded next year in Scott’s plan:
— Construction of an interchange on Interstate 95 at I-295 in Jacksonville. $179.4 million.
— Additional lanes on State Road 10 in Escambia County: $46.1 million. (also known as Hwy 90 and Nine Mile Road)
— Additional lanes on State Road 77 in Washington County: $106.6 million.
— Additional lanes along Krome Avenue in Miami-Dade County: $78.3 million.
— Additional lanes and reconstructing a portion of Interstate 75 in Charlotte County: $60 million.
— A 13-mile road project from U.S. 98 to the Suncoast Parkway in Hernando and Citrus counties, joining the Veterans Expressway and the Suncoast Parkway to create a 70-mile corridor from Tampa to Citrus County: $148.9 million.
— A new I-95 interchange at St. Johns Heritage Parkway, also known as the Palm Bay Parkway, in Brevard County: $28.8 million.
The state is also in the early planning phase of a corridor that would provide a direct link between Tampa and Jacksonville, Boxold said.
Boxold succeeded Ananth Prasad, who has gone to work in the Tallahassee office of Missouri-based consulting firm HNTB Corp. Boxold had been the Department of Transportation’s chief of staff before being short-listed for the top position.