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Florida roads, water projects, Everglades restoration could benefit under Biden plan

By John Haughey
The Center Square
April 2, 2021

Florida lawmakers will consider three versions of proposed Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) budgets over the next 30 days with differences mostly resolved in closed-door joint chamber conferences.

But one thing the House’s $97.1 billion proposal, Senate’s $95 billion plan and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $96.6 billion budget request – before adding $4.3 in federal stimulus money – have in common is all earmark billions for roadwork, water quality projects and “resilience” initiatives to address coastal flooding fostered by rising sea levels.

The plans allocate more than $1.5 billion in water quality projects, including Everglades restoration, and direct between $9-10 billion into resurfacing roads, improving railways and to repair and replace 18 bridges.

State investments in those priorities, and in addressing $21.9 billion in drinking water and $18.4 billion in wastewater needs, could see funding boosts from President Joe Biden’s proposed $3 trillion-plus Build Back Better infrastructure and American Jobs plans unveiled Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

Biden’s plan calls for $115 billion for bridges and highways which, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), could provide a much-needed stimulus to Florida’s efforts to keep pace with growing demands aggravated by an average of 1,000 new residents arriving a day.

According to ASCE’s annual Infrastructure Report Card, 13 percent of Florida’s 275,000 miles of roads are in poor condition, costing each driver $425 a year, and nearly 3 percent of the state’s 12,518 bridges “were structurally deficient” in 2019.

“Since 1984, the number of highway system miles has increased by 25 percent, while the daily vehicle miles traveled increased by 84 percent,” the report states. “In terms of keeping up with the demand, FDOT has fallen behind the curve, and the counties and cities have generally not kept up, either.”

Traffic patterns reveal a glaring inefficiency, the ASCE notes. The state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) manages 12,000 miles of state highways that “consists of only 10 percent of the road miles in Florida, (but) carries more than half of Florida’s total traffic.”

Biden’s proposed ‘Build Back Better’ plan calls for a $111 billion investment in water infrastructure and specifically cites a commitment to “protect and restore major land and water resources like Florida’s Everglades and the Great Lakes.”

A federal “water infrastructure” plug could boost funding for the state’s septic-to-sewer program, among other initiatives, to address $18.4 billion in “wastewater needs” across more than 3,700 sewage treatment plants and $21.9 billion in “drinking water needs” across 5,275 public drinking water treatment systems identified by the ASCE

“Florida’s average daily freshwater demand (which includes drinking water) was estimated … to be 6.4 billion gallons per day in 2010. It is projected this daily water demand could increase by about 20 percent to 7.7 billion gallons per day by 2030,” the report states.

The federal infrastructure plan could also dovetail with Florida’s investments in the 40-year, $8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) approved by Congress in 2000.

The Senate Agriculture, Environment & General Government Appropriations Subcommittee last week introduced a $6.1 billion plan that includes $786 million for Everglades restoration and water projects, $161 million more than Gov. Ron DeSantis requested for a third-year allocation in his four-year $2.5 billion plan.

When Congress approved the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in August, it marked only the second time in 20 years the federal government anted up its full annual $200 million commitment. As a result, Florida has poured $5 billion into CERP while the federal government has kicked in $2 billion.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida U.S. Reps. Brian Mast, R-Stuart, and Darren Soto, R-Kissimmee, are among congressional leaders requesting $5 billion be directed into CERP – $200 million over 25 years.

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