Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Gov. Scott announces $194 million in state funds to help expand Tampa International Airport (w/video)

TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott wants to tout the biggest transportation budget in state history as he campaigns for re-election. Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano needs state money to help fund the biggest expansion in airport history.

These two guys should get together.

That's exactly what they did Wednesday as Gov. Scott announced in front of TV cameras and an adoring throng of local officials that he earmarked $194 million to help pay for the expansion of TIA.

"We want more tourists in our state, they create a lot of jobs," he said. "More than half of those individuals come in through our airports. Tampa has a great airport. This would be a great expansion."

Construction is set to start this year on the Tampa Gateway Center, a 2.3 million-square-foot car rental and retail facility that will be built south of the main terminal. It will be linked to the airport by a 1.3-mile people mover.

The project is expected to cost $943 million. One day the Tampa Gateway Center could connect the airport to whatever future system of mass transit arises in Tampa Bay.

The project is expected to create 7,141 construction jobs and, when it's finished in 2017, another 1,112 permanent jobs.

The Florida Department of Transportation's share is 21 percent of the cost. The rest will be funded by airport bonds paid for by increased car rental and airline ticket fees.

FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad, who accompanied Scott, said it's part of the record $8.8 billion transportation budget the governor has proposed. Prasad said he was "very confident" the legislature would approve it.

But the airport initially asked for $272 million and has been lobbying the state since February 2013. It wasn't until last month that the TIA project landed on the governor's budget — albeit with $78 million less than the airport sought. TIA will pay for the shortfall with more debt, but officials haven't given up on getting more money from the state.

Lopano, however, was not complaining.

"Yes!" he shouted in celebration during the news conference.

"This is the best example of strategic alignment I've seen in a long time," Lopano said. "We have a governor who believes in tourism, who creates jobs. We have a secretary of transportation who gives us a grant so we can support increased tourism.

"And we have an airport that has the vision and a project that makes sense, that is going to benefit not only the west coast of Florida, but the entire state of Florida."

This was the third major infrastructure announcement Scott has made in the Tampa Bay region in the past three months.

In January the governor went to Clearwater to announce that the state would pay a contractor an extra $3.2 million to work round-the-clock to finish turning U.S. 19 into a free-flowing series of overpasses. If the $113.5 million project is done by March 2015, the contractor will get a $1.6 million bonus.

Last month, Scott came back to Pinellas to announce that the state will chip in $131 million to help fund an expressway linking Interstate 275 and U.S. 19. The elevated toll road will cost about $338 million.

"You want your tax dollars invested where you're going to get a return," Scott said. "The Tampa Bay area is a hot market. Tourists want to come here. People want to move here. People want to buy homes here."

But this was the same governor who in 2011 vetoed $2.4 billion in federal funding for high-speed rail linking Tampa to Orlando. The governor said at the time that the state would be on the hook for up to $1 billion in cost overruns, but the state's share would have actually been capped at about $280 million.

Scott on Wednesday defended his 2011 decision even while lauding his current transportation initiatives. The governor pointed to California's efforts to build high-speed rail, which have been hampered by increased costs and extensive litigation.

"The federal government was going to give us some money, but we had to finish the project," Scott said. "Look at the California project. Look at the overruns in that project. And (high-speed rail systems) always lose money.

"Contrast it to something like this … it works. It's adding jobs. You can see it right here working."

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected]

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