New Study: Red Flags in Florida’s Transportation Stimulus Wish List

Media Contacts
Brad Ashwell

State DOTs Shortchange Crumbling Infrastructure, Public Transportation, and Long-Term Economic Vitality

Florida PIRG

TALLAHASSEE – A new study of the states’ Departments of Transportation (DOTs) wish lists, recently submitted to Congress for funding under a new economic recovery package, suggests that current project list would undermine efforts to repair and modernize our deteriorating infrastructure and reduce U.S. dependence on oil.

The study also shows that President-elect Obama’s stated intention to invest in a modernized infrastructure that will create jobs and build a clean, smarter economy for the 21st century could be undermined if the Florida DOT spends transportation stimulus funds the way they and other states have suggested in their wish lists to Congress.

“The lists submitted by these states, including the list submitted by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) dramatically favor new highway projects over road & bridge repair and transit projects.” said Brad Ashwell, Florida PIRG’s Lead Advocate. “It is wrongheaded, in an era when public transportation is booming and bridges need repair, for state’s to prioritize building new highways over repairing existing infrastructure and expanding public transportation systems.”

“We can both create jobs and rebuild our economy in the short term in a way that helps to solve our long-term energy challenges,” said Ashwell. “But we can’t afford to waste precious resources on new highways at the expense of ready-to-go projects to repair and maintain existing roads and bridges. We also need leaders to seize this opportunity to expand existing public transportation systems.”

Under the Florida Department of Transportation’s wish list requests:

  • Florida would spend only 1 percent of stimulus funds on public transit/intercity rail projects.
  • The Florida DOT has allocated $6.890 million dollars to highway projects, 99 percent of that going to new or expanded capacity over the maintenance needs of the states infrastructure.
  • Fixing existing bridges and roads and system preservations is not prioritized at all. Approximately 10 percent of the total amount requested is allocated to a mere 14 bridge and highway rehabilitation and resurfacing projects. According to the State Highway Administration, Florida has 129 structurally deficient highway bridges among those that receive federal-aid. There are 302 structurally deficient bridges total in Florida.
  • Out of 16 states only 5 states placed a greater emphasis than Florida on highway projects over public transit/intercity rail projects.

The 16-state study examines available state Department of Transportation wish lists sent to Congress as part of the development of the next economic recovery package. The sixteen state transportation lists for “ready-to-go” projects indicate that:

  • Despite increasing transit ridership nationwide, on average, the states would spend only sixteen percent of funds on public transit or intercity rail projects. Seven of the sixteen states, including Florida, would allocate 1 percent or less to transit or intercity rail, including four that would allocate nothing at all.
  • In spite of hundreds of billions of dollars in backlogged maintenance and repair for crumbling infrastructure, more than half of transportation funds would flow to highway projects to build new or wider highways. Half of states would spend less than a third of road funds to protect and restore existing bridges and roads.
  • The vast majority of states have not disclosed their transportation wish lists for public scrutiny. Only a few states have even made their lists available for this report, and even fewer have released the list to the public. Florida’s list can be found on the Florida Department of Transportation’s website but not easily.

The report documents why it is critically important how stimulus infrastructure money is spent. Misguided transportation polices of the past have contributed to many of America’s most pressing problems. Each year the average American living in an urban area spends 38 hours – nearly a full work week – stuck in traffic delays. Transportation has become the second biggest expense for the average household – even more than health care and just behind housing costs.  Our transportation system is the chief source of the nation’s oil dependency. And vehicles are the biggest end-user source of global warming pollution, contributing to a third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“Fixing aging bridges and speeding up road maintenance is a faster way to create jobs and stimulate the economy than building more highway capacity,” stated Ashwell.  “It makes no sense to build new roads that increase our addiction to oil when you can create jobs, meet growing demand for public transportation and reduce oil consumption by funding transit operations and getting far-sighted transit projects off the drawing board and into action.”

The Florida PIRG report called on states to disclose the wish lists they’ve submitted to Congress and for stimulus funds to support operations for transit agencies struggling to accommodate booming ridership.

The report calls on Congress, the Obama Administration, and state leaders to apply the following principles to the writing and implementation of the next federal economic recovery legislation:

(1) Highways should receive no more funds than the combined total for public transit, intercity rail, and bicycle and pedestrian projects; (2) Any road funds should go first to maintenance and repair of structurally deficient bridges and roads, not new highways or lanes; (3) Public transportation funds should include support for operations so agencies can accommodate rising demand; (4) Surface Transportation Program highway funds should be distributed as under current law so that a portion of resources flow directly to metropolitan areas that know best about which local projects are needed; (5) All states, cities, and agencies should publicly disclose the stimulus lists they have submitted; (6) Direct recipients of stimulus funds should report on how money was spent and any transportation spending that it displaced.

“President-elect Obama has likened his economic recovery plan to President Eisenhower’s vision in the 1950s to create an Interstate Highway System,” said Ashwell. “These state project lists would be more like spending billions for a network of horse-drawn carriage paths. They wouldn’t solve America’s transportation problems, and might even make them worse.”

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