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DeWitt: Grandstanding aside, Nugent has turned back on infrastructure needs

U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent, champion of the underdog.

It's not usually how we think of him. But the hard-right Republican from Spring Hill went out of his way to stick up for Arlene Sollis.

Sollis has cerebral palsy and relies on a wheelchair to get from her home in the Vista Grand Senior Center on Quality Drive to Bayfront Health Spring Hill hospital and a nearby Publix.

Sollis says a sidewalk there is badly needed, and, after taking a look himself, Nugent wrote in a letter to the County Commission: "I wholeheartedly agree. … Yet the county has continued to deny her petitions."

He didn't stop with the letter, showing up at last Tuesday's commission meeting in person to press Sollis' case. It's the least he could do, considering she had flown up to Nugent's Washington office to make her case, which Nugent found a "really touching show of independence and strength," said his spokesman, Ian Gilley.

Heartwarming, right?

Not really. In fact, I'd say it was one of the more hypocritical stunts I've witnessed in a while.

The lack of a sidewalk on Quality Drive is part of a much bigger national problem — inadequate infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has identified $3.6 trillion worth of needed investment into the country's highways, sidewalks and other facilities, and gave the current infrastructure network an overall grade of D-plus.

Because the trademark of the Nugent-era Congress is inactivity, it's no surprise it has taken none of the obvious steps to fill this funding gap, especially raising the national gas tax, which even in this time of plunging fuel costs hasn't budged since 1993.

But Congress did, at least, pass the FAST Act in December. Though it was a "drop in the bucket," according to one infrastructure advocacy group, it provided enough funds to maintain the solvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund for the next five years.

But guess who was one of only 65 members of the House of Representatives to cast a "no" vote. That's right. Nugent. The guy who last week was getting all worked up about the need for "public safety and accessibility."

He said through Gilley that the act was full of funding gimmicks and didn't devote enough money to Florida, though other members of Congress from our state have said just the opposite. And if Nugent has identified and supported any other strategies to satisfy this desperate national need, he didn't share them.

That, by the way, is his job — dealing with national problems, not posing as the solution to a local one that, actually, the responsible officials have well in hand.

They did not "deny" Sollis' petitions. The sidewalk on Quality Drive is one of the county's top pedestrian priorities and due for completion in two years. It was placed high on this list not because it presented an opportunity for a showboating congressman, but for the legitimate reason that it represents a real need.

And if the county were to bump it up on this list — it agreed to explore ways to speed completion by a few months — it would displace other badly needed projects, including sidewalks near Deltona Elementary School on busy and treacherous Deltona Boulevard.

This intense competition for transportation funds is no surprise, given the lack of them. It's what happens when elected officials, who want to look like they are fighting for individuals, turn their back on their duty to us all.

Contact Dan DeWitt at ddewitt@tampabay.com. Follow @ddewitttimes.

DeWitt: Grandstanding aside, Nugent has turned back on infrastructure needs 03/03/16 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2016 1:24am]
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