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Fla. funds available for widening project on Pine Island Road

By Staff | Jun 2, 2009

A local road project 25 years in the making took one step closer to becoming reality last week when Gov. Charlie Crist signed legislation pledging $54.5 million in state funds to widen State Road 78/Pine Island Road from two lanes to four from Chiquita Boulevard west to Burnt Store Road.
Under the legislation, the city of Cape Coral must pay the upfront costs of the project, with the state paying the city back at the rate of $5 million per year starting July 2015.
Cape Coral City Council members and staffers discussed a resolution to fund the road expansion Monday and praised the efforts of state Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, to get the legislation passed.
“In my opinion we have one person to thank for this for his work, his drive, his determination to make this happen and that would be Representative Aubuchon,” Financial Services Director Mark Mason said.
To fund the project, special assessments will be levied against property owners along the road where the widening will occur. The affected land encompasses 350 developable acres. A study is to be conducted to determine the amount of the special assessments, which are designed to recover 100 percent of the estimated costs. Stormwater fees will also be used to finance the debt payments associated with the project.
Mason said the expansion of the road will encourage development in the area.
“It’s critical to our goal of having a more balanced economy,” he said.
In addition to special assessments and stormwater fees, a transportation concurrency backlog authority will be created in the area as a third funding mechanism. It will essentially act as a tax increment financing area, where increases in property values over time will be used to fund the project. When the road expansion is paid for, the authority will cease to exist.
Aubuchon, whose third attempt at garnering state funding for the project proved to be the charm, lauded the authority and the leeway it offers developers.
“Commercial construction can begin immediately, it doesn’t need to wait until the road is widened,” he told council members.
The resolution goes before the council next week for a vote, and Aubuchon lobbied for its support.
“Next week when it comes before you I urge your unanimous and wholehearted support,” he said.
Most council members applauded the project and the legislation, but Councilmember Bill Deile expressed concern over the state’s funding mechanism. At issue was the legislation’s wording, which holds that state funds will be used to pay back the city “not sooner than July 1, 2015.”
“The agreement doesn’t bind them to that (date) it says, ‘not sooner than,’ not no later than. You’re assuming they’re going to start in 2015, I read it otherwise,” he told Mason.
Aubuchon explained that the law’s wording was designed so as not to bind the hands of future legislatures.
“To the extent that future legislatures appropriate those funds, we have an agreement to receive those funds. The state has never failed in its duty to appropriate those funds. We cannot contractually obligate the legislature to appropriate those funds in 2015,” he said.