Jacksonville, FL - A big boost could be coming to Florida’s transportation budget, and we’re learning more about what that would cost you.
While in Jacksonville today, Florida Governor Rick Scott rolled out his proposal to increase the budget for the Florida Department of Transportation to $8.8 billion- a record level of funding. This is about $200 million more than last year, and Scott wants $138 million of that increase to focus on Florida’s ports.
Despite the big price tag, Scott says the plan comes at little cost to you.
“We have more tourists coming down to our state, they pay sales tax. More people are buying homes, they pay property taxes,” he says.
Responding to my question on cost, Scott says the increase comes as a result of the budget surplus. It’s the same pot of money he wants to draw on to cover a decrease in auto registrations and fees. He says because the state is growing in population and tourism, we have the money to make these kinds of investments.
The increase in port funding won’t significantly resonate in Jacksonville, however. Of the roughly $138 million Scott wants for ports, only $2.6 million is earmarked for improvements at the Blount Island terminal of JAXPORT.
“Our expectation was this year we would receive a smaller amount relative to some of the other ports,” says JAXPORT CEO Brian Taylor.
Taylor tells me over the past two years or so, Florida has invested more than $120 million in JAXPORT, so they had fewer needs this year. The improvements to the terminal under this budget are needed, however, in order to accommodate larger ships the port hopes to be bringing in soon.
And it’s with that future in mind that the state held off on a significant boost for JAXPORT this year. FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad says the fight to authorize dredging continues.
“When the port authorizes the project and the federal government authorizes the project, trust me, there will be a significant amount of investment,” he says.
Prasad says deepening JAXPORT to 47 feet could cost more than $600 million. Legislation pending in Congress right now does not include the authorization to dredge JAXPORT because a study on the project is not out until shortly after the funding would kick in. Local Congressional leaders, JAXPORT and Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown continue to fight to have the authorization added in however. Brown says he plans to focus on that on an upcoming trip to DC.
The rest of the budget includes several big roadway projects, most dealing with highways that don’t immediately impact Northeast Florida.
This budget proposal is still subject to approval by Florida lawmakers in March.