Noting motorists’ frustrations with traffic backups, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez on Thursday urged the Florida Legislature to draw billions of dollars from state reserves to fast track the construction of 20 planned highway projects, including several in Central Florida.
“It’s no secret that we’ve seen tremendous growth in Florida,” Nuñez said in Sanford, where she was joined by transportation and public safety officials. “But with that growth, there’s no denying that our traffic has grown. … These 20 projects have been selected in areas that will provide the most relief, and make Florida’s transportation systems safer and less congested.”
Called “Moving Florida Forward,” the $7-billion infrastructure initiative was first pitched by Gov. Ron DeSantis last January as part of his budget proposal to the Legislature for the upcoming fiscal year.
To pay for the initiative, $4 billion would come from the state’s general revenue reserves. Then with that money, the Florida Department of Transportation would have the “statutory ability to leverage innovative financing tools” to come up with an additional $3 billion over four years, transportation officials said.
In Central Florida, the so-called “congestion relief” projects would include:
- Reconstructing Interstate 4 to add several lanes between Champions Gate and Osceola Parkway in Osceola County at an estimated cost of nearly $1.5 billion.
- Reconstruction of I-4 to add several lanes between U.S. Highway 27 and Champions Gate in Osceola County at an estimated cost of $635 million.
- Construction of the Poinciana Parkway Extension Connection between County Road 532 and State 429 at a cost of about $1.3 billion.
- Improvements to the I-4 interchange at State Road 33 near Lakeland, and adding lanes on S.R. 33 between Old Combee and Tomkow roads in Polk County. The project, which also would improve wildlife crossings, is estimated to cost $197 million.
- Improvements to the Interstate 95 and U.S. Highway 1 interchange in Volusia County at an estimated cost of $340 million.
“It’s much, much needed,” said Osceola Commissioner Cheryl Grieb, about the proposed improvements to I-4 in the Champions Gate area. “As everyone knows, it’s one of the worst congested areas.”
“It needs to be done now,” she said. “It needs to be done now for real change for our communities that have been longing for relief from our traffic congestion.”
She added that pulling money from the state’s general-revenue surplus for the “Moving Forward Now” initiative would not take away funds from other expenditures. Florida has seen this fiscal year higher-than-estimated tax collections and an influx of federal stimulus money.
State Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue said the projects have been in the planning stages for years, and the funding will speed the completion within four years.
“The congestion is all day every day,” he said.
Maj. Tom Pikul of the Florida Highway Patrol said traffic congestion is not only frustrating but a safety issue as well. It slows emergency vehicles from arriving at a crash scene and then delays transporting injured victims to hospitals.
“As traffic builds up more, there’s more possibilities of traffic crashes or frustration and road rage in those areas,” he said. “You’ll see vehicles traveling on the right shoulder or in the median.”