Passage of national transportation bill critical for local projects - South Lake Press: News

Passage of national transportation bill critical for local projects

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Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 6:00 am

Widening improvements scheduled on Interstate 75, from County Road 470 to Florida’s Turnpike, could be delayed or could shift additional financial burden to the Florida Department of Transportation, if Congress does not pass a multi-year surface transportation bill this legislative session, according to T.J. Fish, executive director of Lake-Sumter Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The I-75 improvements, which involve widening the interstate from four lanes to six lanes from the Hernando County line to Florida’s Turnpike in Sumter County, is just one of several transportation projects that could be stalled dependent on whether the bill passes.

The Wekiva Parkway and the Coast to Coast Trail projects could also encounter delays, Fish said.

Many local transportation programs such as Lake Xpress, Leesburg International Airport and Umatilla Municipal Airport could also be affected because they also receive federal funds, according to Fish.

At the recent 2014 National Association of Counties Legislative Conference in Washington D.C., garnering support for passage of the transportation bill was the main focus of the event.

Commissioner Welton Cadwell attended the conference where he serves as chairman of the National Association of Counties Community and Economic Development Steering Committee.

“The real push is not to have a yearly transportation bill but to have a six-year bill,” he said. “Over 30 percent of the nation’s bridges are local government responsibilities.”

The passage of a multi-year bill is critical, Fish emphasized, because the MPO, like many other entities, has to plan out projects over the long term.

“States rely on some predictability in the process to be able to commit funds to large transportation projects,” he said. “We have to have planning studies and those phases take a year or more.”

If Congress cannot agree on a multi-year transportation bill, lawmakers may pass continuing resolutions to keep some transportation programs funded, Fish said.

But other programs may be subjected to cuts as Congress addresses its mounting debt, Fish said.

“That is exactly the opposite of what the county needs,” he said. “We need to fund infrastructure to create jobs.”

The bill known as “Map 21” expires in September, according to a press release from NACo.

Counties own 45 percent of the nation’s public roads and 39 percent of the nation’s bridge inventory, NACo has stated.

“The economic recovery for most counties remains fragile and uneven,” said NACo Executive Director Matt Chase in a statement. “Counties rely on a blend of federal, state and local funding and financing to maintain our county transportation assets. The growing uncertainty at the federal level will most likely result in delayed or cancelled projects, costing more jobs and pain for county governments and private contractors.”

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