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Roads at risk as revenues plummet

By Staff | Dec 20, 2008

The state of Florida’s ability to pay for road projects has dropped by a whopping 20 percent over the next five years.
That was the unhappy news that Ben Walker, FDOT’s District 1 intermodal systems development manager, delivered to Lee County officials Friday.
In fact, the state work program has been gashed by $7.2 billion over the last two years, Walker said, $3.5 billion of it since August.
Nothing but bad news came out of the Revenue Estimating Conference held in November. Dropping gas tax revenues and lower general revenues dragged down by an economy in a downward spiral mean that the already-thinner draft 5-year work program members of the Lee Metropolitan Planning Organization approved Friday will likely get lighter still.
“The work program that was on the table is a draft,” FDOT spokeswoman Debbie Tower said. “This year the word ‘draft’ is underscored.”
Maybe in red ink. The new airport access road from Interstate 75 to Treeline was eliminated from the work program. Five different I-75 projects that would have widened the interstate from Colonial Boulevard all the way to State Road 80 were either deferred until 2014 or eliminated from the 5-year plan altogether.
Stan Cann, district secretary for FDOT, said the transportation budget is usually finalized in March or April. How or whether the Legislature will try to plug budget gaps may be determined during a January special session. Cann told board of Realtors representative Stephanie Keyes he hadn’t heard anything about possibly raiding housing funds.
“Not that I’ve heard of, but the special session is coming up,” he said.
There is some good news in the program the MPO approved, which includes $453 million for Lee County over five years. The top four local priorities as established by the MPO are all funded. Two are payback for funds the county advanced to move projects ahead on the schedule — $1 million for the rebuilding of Alico Road and $5 million for State Road 82. The third is $5 million for transit, bike and pedestrian improvements. Fourth was $11.1 million for a countywide computerized signal system.
All that money is in the fifth year, 2014.
Two joint Lee-Collier projects also finished in the money. They are $4 million for work on Del Prado Boulevard in Cape Coral in 2011 and $7 million for Collier Boulevard between Green and Golden Gate Boulevard in 2012.
For now.
“This program here today is from before the revenue estimating conference,” Walker said.
The work program is a 5-year plan adopted annually. the 12-county district got over $3 billion in 2013-14, the new year in the plan. That’s $1.7 billion for construction, $460 million for support – things like design, engineering, right-of-way purchase and inspection – and another $453 million for operations and maintenance.
The motion to approve the program passed unanimously, but Tower said it might not be final.
“Our dilemma was to be able to distribute a work program,” she said. “We had to go to print. Yes, stuff could still disappear.”