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Jack Latvala talks transportation, infrastructure during AIF symposium

When it comes to the funding transportation and infrastructure, Sen. Jack Latvala has good news and bad news.

The good: State funding for transportation and infrastructure has bounced back after years of budget cuts. Recent budgets have been record setting, not just when it comes to roads, but all other aspects of transportation.

The bad news? Florida still has a backlog of projects, and the Clearwater Republican told business, political and transportation leaders Thursday he’s concerned the backlog will get worse before it gets better.

“We’ve got generally a political mood that is anti-tax, anti-new revenue,” he said during the 2016 Building Florida’s Future symposium in Tampa. “I predict that will continue for a couple more years, and I imagine the backlog will get a little worse.”

Latvala served as the chairman of the transportation, tourism and economic development appropriations subcommittee, and played a role in crafting the transportation budget. He has been tapped to head the full appropriations committee for the next two years.

The 2016-17 budget included $10.8 billion in transportation projects, and fully funded the Department of Transportation’s Work Program. The budget included $571.5 million for resurfacing more than 2,000 lane miles; $739.5 million for scheduled bridge repairs and replacements; and $3.9 billion to expand capacity.

Latvala said regional needs also should be addressed, in part to reduce congestion in the state’s metro areas. One way to solve the problem, Latvala said, is to get people out of their cars and onto buses or trains.

According to 2013 U.S. Census data, 89.8 percent of commuters in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties traveled by private vehicle. That was higher than the national average.

Census data showed just 1.4 percent of Tampa Bay commuters used public transportation to get to work. The area trailed South Florida, where about 3.8 percent of commuters used public transit.

Latvala helped kick off the day-long symposium, which is meant to bring together community leaders, lawmakers and industry experts to talk about the transportation, infrastructure and economic development issues important to Florida’s future. The event is sponsored by Associated Industries of Florida and Port Tampa Bay.

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