Biden gave Florida’s infrastructure a “C” grade. What does that mean?

No state did better than a “C+”. State transportation officials say Florida’s roads are better than most.
President Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden. [ J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE | AP ]
Published Apr. 13, 2021|Updated Apr. 13, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — Floridians’ increasing commute times and lack of affordable housing contributed to a “C” grade for the state’s infrastructure, according to a report card issued by President Joe Biden as part of his effort to pass a historic $2.3 trillion spending plan.

Since 2011, commute times in Florida have risen by 11.6 percent, and more than 1.4 million renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, according to the report card, released Monday.

Florida’s middling scores were above average — only two states received the highest score, a “C+” — and the two-page report card included no details about how it arrived at the grade.

The Sunshine State was also given the same grim proclamation as every other state: “For decades, infrastructure in Florida has suffered from a systemic lack of investment.”

“The need for action is clear,” the report card states:

  • 408 bridges and over 3,564 miles of highway are in poor condition
  • Floridians who take public transportation spend an extra 77.9 percent of their time commuting, and non-White households are 3.5 times more likely to commute via public transportation
  • 16 percent of trains and other transit vehicles in the state are past useful life
  • 6 percent of Floridians live in an area with no broadband internet access, and 13 percent of households have no internet subscription
  • Florida’s drinking water infrastructure will require $21.9 billion in additional funding over the next 20 years

Biden’s state-by-state breakdowns are intended to show a need for a dramatic investment in infrastructure, including spending hundreds of billions in categories not traditionally considered infrastructure, such as caregiving, making low-income homes energy-efficient and modernizing schools.

Congressional Republicans, including Sen. Rick Scott, have pushed back on Biden’s plan, citing its broad definition of infrastructure. To pay for it, the plan would raise corporate taxes from 21 percent to 28 percent, partially rolling back the cuts passed by Congress during former President Donald Trump’s term.

“I think when you say ‘infrastructure,’ you’re focused on primarily roads, bridges and ports,” Scott told the Miami Herald on Tuesday.

In Florida, transportation experts pushed back on the idea the state’s roads and bridges were so bad, although they welcomed additional spending to handle the state’s growing population.

“It was kind of mind-boggling how they would come up with that (score),” said Ananth Prasad, a former Florida Department of Transportation Secretary and current president of the Florida Transportation Builders Association, which lobbies on behalf of road builders. “I would say we have a B infrastructure, not a C.”

While the state does have 408 bridges considered by federal authorities to be structurally deficient, that’s just 3.2 percent of the state’s bridges, eighth-best in the nation, according to federal data.

“Our bridges are new, our roads are relatively new, and we don’t have icing, so they don’t get damaged as quickly,” said Christopher Emmanuel, director of infrastructure and governance policy at the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

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Like other states, however, Floridians’ average commute time has increased steadily over the last decade, to 28.4 minutes in 2019, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

State lawmakers have been grappling with similar issues during this year’s legislative session, which is scheduled to end April 30. Republican lawmakers have proposed permanently diverting money set aside for affordable housing and spending it on water projects and efforts to combat sea level rise. They are set to fully fund the state’s 5-year work program at more than $10.4 billion.

Biden’s plan doesn’t say how much each state would receive. But state transportation officials say they hope Florida doesn’t lose out on funding because it has maintained its roads better than other states.

“Florida is a nationwide leader when compared to other states’ infrastructure, and the department hopes its proactive approach is rewarded, not penalized, should the new funding proposal become law,” the Department of Transportation said in a statement.

Miami Herald/McClatchy DC reporter Alex Daugherty contributed to this report.

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