The road to recovery from the pandemic will include a new layer of asphalt in Hillsborough County.
The county is preparing to divide up the $285.9 million received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, and the first item to be considered is $35 million earmarked for repaving roads.
The proposed spending comes three months after commissioners learned that catching up on maintenance of the county’s 7,200 miles of roads, plus its bridges and sidewalks, would require a $700 million investment over the next 10 years.
Commissioner Stacy White called the $35 million appropriation “a much-needed infusion” for county roads.
“We’re behind the eight-ball. All of this will just scratch the service, but every dollar counts and I think it’s important we make this appropriation,” White said.
It was a sentiment echoed by other commissioners.
“That’s something the people clearly and rightfully have been clamoring for,” said Commissioner Harry Cohen. “I think it’s appropriate that we use some of this money to make an immediate down payment on getting a lot of those projects going.”
Commissioner Ken Hagan said he hoped the appropriation could be duplicated in the county’s 2023 budget.
“It’s a good start,” said Hagan, “... but the reality is we need about $35 to $40 million a year for probably five or six years in order to catch up.”
County Administrator Bonnie Wise included the $35 million appropriation in her recommended budget that still requires commission approval. Without the influx of federal aid, the county had planned to budget just $5.4 million to repave roads in the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
Separately, the county also plans future appropriations of American Rescue Plan Act dollars of up to $10 million for bridge repairs, $2 million for traffic signals and $3 million for other transportation safety improvements.
President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act in March, and it included $285.9 million in direct payments to Hillsborough County split over two years. One of the allowable spending categories is replacement of revenue lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That money can be spent on infrastructure, cybersecurity, health and education services, environmental remediation, and public safety.
While transportation is the initial spending target, the county’s investment plan also focuses heavily on the environment, fire rescue operations, social services and other areas.
“There so much good stuff in there,” said Cohen.
Among the spending proposals and the estimated maximum amounts that commissioners will consider over the next several months are:
- $70 million for septic to sewer conversions in Gibsonton, Palm River, Wimauma and Ruskin;
- $15 million for streams and wetlands restoration;
- $15 million for storm water culverts;
- $15 million for high-speed internet in underserved areas;
- $35 million for affordable housing;
- $15 million for food programs to assist the 260,000 residents considered food insecure;
- $7 million to non-profit agencies to continue existing COVID-19 related responses such as housing, mental health, child care and other community needs;
- $4 million for substance abuse programs;
- $15 million for workforce training;
- $10 million for tourism marketing;
- $5 million for business recovery incentives;
- $10 million for county cyber defense;
- $15 million to rebuild five outdated fire stations;
- $10 million for fire station technology upgrades to improve emergency response times;
- $15 million for a 60,000 square foot warehouse for emergency operations;
- $15 million for park improvements;
- $10 million to improve indoor air quality and other safety enhancements to allow in-person government activities to resume in county locations.