On Monday, May 16, two major Florida construction projects stood as shining examples of the merits of infrastructure investment, as federal, state and local leaders—some of differing political stripes—touted the economic benefits of improved funding for transportation.
In Miami, at the grand opening of the $1-billion PortMiami Tunnel, it was Gov. Rick Scott (R) touting the merits of increasing investment in ports. Sharing the momentary bipartisan/non-partisan spotlight was U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who joined in to sing from the same page about infrastructure spending. Additionally, non-partisan Ananth Prasad, Florida's transportation secretary, also took advantage of the opportunity to pitch infrastructure investments.
The timing of the two events—just a week after President Obama visited New York's $3.9-billion Tappan Zee Bridge project to urge Congress to fix the Highway Trust Fund—must have been a bit of a happy coincidence for the Florida Dept. of Transportation, who earned some additional positive press.
PortMiami's $1-billion tunnel project was completed on budget, and on schedule, says FDOT. (Video posted by the Miami Herald)
And for a brief, shining moment, governmental leaders of differing stripes seemed to be in agreement. Gov. Scott highlighted the importance of ports, in particular, as drivers of economic activity.
“As we work to create even more jobs for the next generation, investing in our ports is key to our success," he said. "Florida ports already generate more than 680,000 direct and indirect jobs and more than $96 billion in total economic value, and those opportunities are going to continue to multiply. We are here today to celebrate all of the opportunities the Port of Miami Tunnel will bring to the state.”
In his comments, FDOT's Prasad hinted at the merits of bipartisan cooperation when he said, “The completion of the Port of Miami Tunnel project is a great moment in South Florida’s transportation history and shows that game changing transportation improvements can be achieved when everyone works together.”
Altogether, the collegiality likely came from the focus of the event, which was to celebrate the completion of a major, long-awaited and challenging construction project. Meanwhile, the visit to the other side of the state later that day struck a slightly different tone.
In Tampa, Foxx and Prasad toured the ongoing Interstate 275 widening project, which is part of a $1.8-billion effort called the Tampa Interstate Study that also involves improvements to Interstate 4, State Route 60 and the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. Here, the call to Congress to enact long-term transportation legislation was overt.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx speaks at the I-275 project in Tampa. FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad is at far right, next to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. (Photo courtesy U.S. DOT)
“The American people want better roads and bridges to get them safely where they need to go and projects like the Tampa Interstate Study are why we need Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill,” said Foxx. In late April, Foxx sent Congress a $302-billion, four-year transportation plan. As ENR reported, the proposal included $190 billion for highways, and a total of $10 billion specifically targeted to freight-related projects.
Prasad's comments at the I-275 tour were not available, but the secretary recently shared his thoughts on the Highway Trust Fund's financial problems via an interview with the American Society of Civil Engineers. There, he offered his prediction for the coming months.
"There is a big election coming up nationally so I’m cautiously optimistic that they will put more money in to make the fund solvent until next year, then after the fall elections are done the Congress would likely begin debating a much more robust highway bill and how to fund it," he said.
He then added a key assessment: "Policy frameworks are easy, but the bigger issue is how do you get funding?"
Indeed, that is the question.
Secretary Prasad tweeted this photo of himself and USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx at the PortMiami Tunnel grand opening. Prasad tweeted thanks to Foxx for highlighting transportation investments.