By Luke Carothers
According to a report from the federal government, there are over 408 bridges and 3,564 miles of highway currently in poor condition in the state of Florida. In addition, the average commute time for Florida’s residents has increased eleven percent in the last decade while the average driver pays around $425 a year on car maintenance due poorly maintained roads. With the recent signing of the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill, Florida is currently deciding how these funds can best be used to both maintain and repair aging infrastructure while also providing new and better options for those who rely on public transportation.
One of the goals in receiving this funding is to create sustainable transportation options for those living in the state. According to Dawn M. Meyers, Partner and Manager of Berger Singerman’s Government and Regulatory team, these sustainable transportation options should come in the form of public transportation that does not require as much ongoing maintenance as roads and bridges. Currently, most of the public transportation in the state of Florida is presented in the form of bus routes provided by local governments. However, according to Meyers, this is not sustainable because, while it is a form of public transportation, these bus systems rely on the same roads and bridges as individual cars, which further exacerbates existing maintenance issues. According to experts such as Meyer, a significant portion of the anticipated $2.6 billion in funding Florida will receive for sustainable transportation should be directed to more sustainable forms of public transportation such as rail. The development of sustainable transportation options within the state directly impacts non-white households, who are 3.5 times more likely to use public transportation than white households. By developing sustainable public transportation options that do not rely on the state’s poor roads and bridges, this investment will alleviate a problem that disproportionately affects non-white households.
Much of Florida’s population are reliant on bridges in their day-to-day lives in rural, suburban, and urban communities. With an estimated 408 bridges in poor condition statewide, the repair and maintenance of these structures is critical to not only the people living in these communities, but also the future of economic development in the state. Currently, the new act is estimated to allocate $245 million to bridge repair and replacement, which averages out to roughly $49 million a year. Meyer believes that this amount is not sufficient to meet the current needs of the state’s infrastructure, but the legislation also allows Florida to compete for additional bridge funding. An estimated $12.5 billion in funding is available for “economically significant bridges” as well as another $16 billion for major projects that will deliver “substantial economic benefits.” However, competing for and securing this funding will be a significant challenge, as these funds are available for projects in all 50 states. In addition, Meyers believes that the stipulations of “economically significant” and “substantial economic benefit” will make it harder for smaller and rural communities to compete for the funds, meaning that the few bridge projects that do receive these funds will likely only benefit those living in large metropolitan areas.
In addition to the funds Florida will receive for its ailing transportation infrastructure, the act also provides funding for items such as internet infrastructure and weatherization. An estimated $100 million in funding will be used to invest in the state’s internet infrastructure, which, up to this point, has largely been driven by market demand. This means that most of this internet infrastructure has been developed in larger metropolitan communities. According to Meyers, approximately 707,000 Floridians currently lack internet access. While this investment is not likely to completely reduce the deficit in internet infrastructure in smaller and rural communities, it does represent a first step and the first investment of its kind in the state. The new legislation also commits $3.5 billion towards weatherization. Florida is no stranger to extreme weather events in the form of water, wind, and heat. When extreme weather events occur, Floridians must prepare their homes and businesses to protect their significant personal investments. By providing funding for hardening windows and roofs as well as increasing insulation, this commitment also helps residents save money in the long run.
This new legislation represents a staggering investment in the critical infrastructure needs of the state. Meyers believes that, while it is easy to look at the figures program by program and conclude that they are just not enough, the act provides money for critical infrastructure needs that the state simply could not have budgeted on their own. Meyers believes that, budgeted correctly, this investment will go a long way to improving the lives of all Florida’s residents.
Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.