February 26, 2015

Infrastructure

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Highways. At the state level, the biggest component of infrastructure is roads. As table 8 showed, transportation funding is holding its own in Florida’s budget. Despite having fallen to 9.4 percent of state government expenditures in 2010/11 during the recessionary downturn, by 2012/13 it was back up to 11 percent, about where it was in 1989/90, and in the neighborhood of where it has been for the past quarter of a century.

While Florida’s population continues to grow, table 1 showed that in terms of percentage, that growth has slowed over the decades. Rapid population growth put a strain on Florida’s infrastructure and resulted in increasing traffic congestion; slower growth and current funding levels may offer the opportunity to increase road capacity and lessen traffic congestion.[1]

The state has moved toward building toll roads as a way of funding new roads.[2] As noted earlier, there is substantial political opposition to establishing tolls on roads that were previously accessible at no charge. However, there is less political opposition to building new roads financed by tolls, perhaps because voters believe that financing a road through tolls is the only way the road could be built.

Florida’s first major toll road was Florida’s Turnpike. Construction on the road began in 1957 and it was completed from Wildwood to Miami in 1964. It was financed by 20-year bonds to be paid off by the tolls, and Floridians were told at that time that when the bonds were paid off, the tolls would be eliminated. That did not happen, and the road continues to be a toll road (and has been extended an additional 48 miles to end in Homestead).[3]

High-speed rail. The possibility of amending Florida’s constitution has played a significant role in attempts to build high-speed rail within the state. A citizen initiative amendment, approved in 2000, mandated that the state build a rail system to link Florida’s five largest urban areas with trains traveling at a minimum of 120 miles per hour. Construction was to begin in 2003. As a result, the legislature created the High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) in 2001 to oversee the project. As planning for the project moved forward, Governor Jeb Bush supported another citizen initiative amendment to repeal the earlier amendment, which was approved by the voters in 2004. The constitutional mandate to build high-speed rail was gone, but as is often the case with government agencies, the HSRA lived on.[4]

In 2009 the Federal Railroad Administration designated Florida as eligible for federal funding to build high-speed rail, and the Florida legislature voted to construct high-speed rail to connect Tampa, Orlando, and Miami, with the first segment to be constructed from Tampa to Orlando. Powerful political interest groups support projects from which they could benefit; one of those Florida interest groups was the Walt Disney Corporation. One of the planned stops in the project was at Disney World and another was at the Orlando airport.

In addition to interest group politics, the political lure to get a fiscally conservative legislature to vote in favor of the project was about $1.2 billion in federal funding that would come to Florida. Much as in the Medicaid case described earlier, it is often difficult to resist the lure of attracting federal funding to the state, even though the federal money will fall well short of paying for the entire project. After Rick Scott was elected governor in 2010, one of his first acts as governor was to cancel the high-speed rail project in 2011. Scott ran as a fiscal conservative and argued that the project would cost the state millions of dollars every year and would not be cost effective.[5]

Other rail projects are also in the planning stages in Florida. One would connect Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, while another would run from Orlando to Daytona Beach. These projects have enough local support to keep them alive, although the rail lines have yet to be built. 

Florida seaports. Florida has 15 seaports throughout its extensive coastline, and while developing them is a minor political issue and generally supported, state policy is to devote funds to improve the ports both as freight destinations and as passenger destinations for cruise ships. The state devotes slightly less than $1 billion a year to capital improvements to its ports, much of that covered by fees paid by users.[6]

Water resources. In a state with as much rainfall as Florida, one would think that water management would be primarily aimed at drainage and flood prevention. While these issues are of concern, a larger issue is maintaining a supply of potable water for Florida’s cities, especially in central and south Florida. One issue is that Florida’s cities get most of their water from wells, and the demand for water has lowered water tables, which has caused salt water encroachment in coastal areas.

Florida is divided into five water management districts, and the districts have broad mandates to administer flood protection programs, develop water management plans for water shortages and droughts, and acquire land for programs to provide for water consumption, aquifer recharge, and the management of surface water. As is true of water resources throughout the United States, water is managed through government planning with minimal reliance on market mechanisms to allocate water to its highest-valued uses.

While water issues do take on some local importance in drought conditions, water management has not been a very visible issue in state government policy.


[1] David T. Hartgen, M. Gregory Fields, and Baruch Feigenbaum, “21st Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems,” (Policy Study 436, Reason Foundation, September 2014). This report notes that Florida has more highway congestion than any other state in the nation.

[2] “Florida has 734 miles (1,181 km) of toll roads, bridges, and causeways as of June 2013, more than any other state.” List of Toll Roads in Florida, Wikipedia, accessed October 9, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_toll_roads_in_Florida.

[3] “Florida’s Turnpike: Providing Transportation Alternatives for 55 Years!,” Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise website, accessed February 10, 2015, www.floridasturnpike.com/about_history.cfm.

[4] See www.floridabullettrain.com/fhsra/2_projectstatus.html for the HSRA’s current plan.

[5] Amy Sherman, “Gov. Rick Scott Says Rail Would Have Cost State Taxpayers $1 Billion to Build,” Tampa Bay Times, August 11, 2011.

[6] See Florida Ports Council, “Analysis of Global Opportunities and Challenges for Florida Seaports,” December 2014.