Lee lawmakers defend ‘turkey’ Ortiz Avenue widening
Ortiz Avenue. Screen via NBC-2.com.

Ortiz Avenue
Florida TaxWatch said road projects should be part of DOT's Work Program.

Florida’s roads eternally have crews resurfacing, expanding and rerouting them. But Florida TaxWatch suggests some of the asphalt being poured is pure pork. The fiscal hawks identified multiple projects in the Legislature’s budget as turkeys, including one top priority among Lee County lawmakers.

TaxWatch cast aspersions at the inclusion of $2.175 million for widening Ortiz Avenue in Lee County.

“The Legislature continues to fund an excessive (and growing) number of local member transportation projects that are not in the [Department of Transportation] Work Program,” a Taxwatch report states.

But Lee County lawmakers say the Ortiz project doesn’t belong on a list of frivolous expenses. Rep. Mike Giallombardo, a Cape Coral Republican, sponsored the request (HB 2591) and said his office carefully vetted the need. The project was requested by Lee County. Giallombardo actually put in for $4.5 million.

“It was to alleviate pressure. The jail sits there. Some big organizations sit there,” he said. “It is a project that is needed. Our area is growing fast, and the county is doing what it has to do to scale to that growth.”

The county already has $166 million in road projects underway, he noted in his funding request. The two-lane Ortiz Avenue already sees a traffic count of 15,400 vehicles, and expanding it should also relieve Interstate 75.

Rep. Jenna Persons, a Fort Myers Republican, agreed.

“Anyone who’s driven this stretch during rush hour can tell you first-hand that this is a valuable investment in critical infrastructure desperately needed for the flow of goods, services and emergency care through this corridor,” Persons said.

“This critical project, a top legislative priority of Lee County adopted by the Board of County Commissioners and presented at our local delegation meeting, is shovel-ready and Lee County is committed to investing over $18.5 million. Gov. DeSantis has tough decisions to make as he reviews the budget and I hope he’ll consider funding this for the people of Southwest Florida.”

The City of Fort Myers is also involved in the project and will build a roundabout at Hanson Street and Ortiz.

Lee County officials have already started public meetings on the project, NBC-2 reports. The widening will start at Colonial Boulevard and run north to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

TaxWatch officials continue to argue that if road projects need state funding, they should pursue it directly from state agencies.

“For years, Florida TaxWatch has recommended that the Legislature stop earmarking those projects to allow the process to decide which projects have the highest return on investment and to ensure they are considered within the state’s coordinated transportation planning process.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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