Gov. Rick Scott has launched his own stimulus program with the state's smart decision to speed up more than $1 billion in road projects. The move doesn't excuse the governor's decision to kill the federally funded high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando. But it will create jobs, and it's a good down payment on improving critical links in the state's transportation system, including several vital routes in the Tampa Bay area.
Contractors are so hard up for work that the state is saving up to 25 percent on the estimated costs of road projects. This month, the state announced it would pour those savings back into new road work. In all, about $1.2 billion in unfunded road projects will be advanced in the coming year. These are essential investments in their own right, but lifelines for thousands in this struggling recovery.
The work includes a new elevated Pinellas Bayway Bridge to St. Pete Beach, which will reduce longtime traffic congestion for residents and visitors alike and improve an important hurricane evacuation route. The state will expand capacity along the Veterans Expressway, which serves northwest Hillsborough County, and advance by several months improvements to I-275 in the area around Tampa International Airport. The state will also upgrade State Road 50 in Hernando and U.S. 27 in Polk. Officials said advancing the work program would create up to 15,000 direct and indirect jobs. This is money well spent for road projects the state needs to retain its quality life and competitiveness, and more could have been done if the Legislature had not once again raided the state transportation fund this year to pay for other government services.
Scott's larger vision for transportation needs more serious scrutiny. It calls for Florida to depend much more on toll roads, do away with some local transportation authorities and partner much more directly with private business. This could create a two-tiered transportation network — one for more affluent commuters, and a cash-starved network for everyone else. But that is a debate for another day.
The newly announced road projects are smart financially, create jobs and improve the transportation network. The spending by the state will fill a void in many communities and put Florida in a better position for when the economy recovers. Scott made the right call by advancing the construction projects.