Douglas Callaway

Transportation “Investments” Roadmap to Florida’s Future
                                                                                                                                            by Doug Callaway 

Like politics, the two most important things for transportation in Florida is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.  And with a direct link between transportation and the development industry, you can’t harm the level of transportation funding without also harming Florida’s developers.

 JOBS, JOBS, JOBS - REALLY? – With Florida’s unemployment rate reaching record highs, the mantra of Legislators before the 2010 Session was “jobs, jobs, jobs.”  Regrettably, this goal was forgotten when the Transportation Trust Fund came into view. 

 Even facing 12.3 % unemployment, Florida House Members still proceeded with a $460 million “sweep” of the State Transportation Trust Fund (STTF). These dollars, paid by motorists when they buy fuel, are intended for TRANSPORTATION purposes and not for politicians in Tallahassee to use as they see fit.

 Ultimately, the $460 million “raid” was reduced to “only” $160 million – but that was still $160 million too much!  Don’t forget, these gas tax dollars were slated to fund Florida DOT’s Work Program – the same Work Program whose transportation projects are so essential to meeting concurrency requirements in the development community.

 Well, as most readers will know by the time this article is published, Governor Charlie Crist has vetoed the $160 million “sweep” of badly-needed state gas tax dollars from Florida’s Transportation Trust Fund.

 CAN WE “GET THERE” FROM HERE? – Rather than “raiding” Florida’s Transportation Trust Fund, state leaders – both current and those elected  this year – should be about spurring our economic recovery by “investing” more in transportation.  Every 1 Billion in transportation spending results in 28,000 jobs, and each dollar invested brings about $5 in positive economic activity. Florida’s leaders must be looking for creative ways to provide the additional transportation resources necessary to get our development community moving forward again. 

Time equals MONEY-  After a natural disaster, governments often declare a State of Emergency and temporarily suspend the normal rules so bridges and highways can be rebuilt faster.  With 12% unemployment, a State of “Economic Emergency” should be declared and transportation and development work done faster so folks won’t lose jobs.

Focus Efforts on Congestion Relief – We should add a third priority of Congestion Relief to FDOT’s existing priorities of Safety and Maintenance of the Existing System.  Any project, highway or transit alike, should be prioritized based upon what it will do to address traffic congestion.  For too long, “political correctness” has allowed funds to be WASTED on projects that won’t address the transportation issue most Floridians care about – Traffic Congestion.

Maximize Existing Funding – Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise should discontinue the 25 cent “subsidy” that is paid for every SunPass user, end the $5 rebate on the purchase of SunPass “Minis”, and index Turnpike tolls in accord with HB 985 from the 2007 Session. This would generate $2 billion.  We should also “re-capture” the dollars generated by the Tag & Title Fee increase of last year and re-direct them to the Transportation Trust Fund where they belong.

Get More of OUR MONEY Back from D.C. – Florida only receives 86 cents back for every federal gas tax dollar sent to Washington, so we need a comprehensive strategy to improve our “rate of return.”  That’s OUR MONEY being used by other states to pay for their transportation systems, aid their development communities, and stimulate their economies! 

DANGER & OPPORTUNITY – The Chinese symbol for the word “crisis” is made up of two characters representing "danger" and “opportunity."  A time of crisis – like the recession we’re in now – is a dangerous one, but also filled with opportunity.  The OPPORTUNITY before us is to fully fund transportation and follow the “roadmap” to economic recovery.

 

-Doug Callaway has been President of FBT  a statewide transportation advocacy association based in Tallahassee  since  2003.

 

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