Chamber Transportation Summit: Federal infrastructure bill brings opportunities to Florida

'It's a much broader definition of infrastructure, but I think all of us can agree that that is the right infrastructure.'

The federal infrastructure bill passed last year will make key investments in Florida infrastructure, and that’s good for business according to Florida Transportation Builders’ Association president Ananth Prasad.

Prasad, a former Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, told attendees at the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Transportation, Growth & Infrastructure Solution Summit to look beyond the “fake news” and “alternative news” takes on the $1.2 trillion spending bill and see it for what it is — an infrastructure bill. That’s been hard for many people to do.

“I had dinner with former Congressman (John) Mica — great leader for the state of Florida, his mark on Florida infrastructure is unmatched — and his first point was that this bill is bad,” Prasad said, adding that Mica criticized the bill for only directing 3% toward infrastructure.

“I’m like, Congressman, I don’t know where — I know he’s a Gator. I’m a Gator — I don’t know where his math came from by saying 3%. It’s a $1.2 trillion bill and you can see $852 billion is guaranteed funding for infrastructure,” Prasad said.

“And that’s not just highways, transit and rail, but everything relating to broadband, highway and pipeline safety, multimodal grants. … It’s a much broader definition of infrastructure, but I think all of us can agree that that is the right infrastructure. There’s a lot of conversation about the social infrastructure, right? That’s not what was included in this bill.”

Prasad did have some light criticism over how the funding will be doled out, specifically that it prioritizes bridge funding toward states that have not invested in preservation. Since Florida has, it will receive comparatively little from that silo of the spending bill.

Otherwise, he said “Florida came out just fine. A 33% funding increase … another $600 million a year on top of the federal transportation dollars we get now.”

Some of the funding will help boost emerging sectors of infrastructure, such as electric vehicle charging stations. And grant funding included in the bill could end up providing a boost for some Florida communities.

“And you can even see some of the investments such as establishing a new rural ferry grant program. You know, the ferry runs here in Jacksonville. Maybe they can tap into that funding source,” he said.

Still, Florida isn’t waiting on a check from the federal government to start laying the groundwork for the transportation system of the future. Private companies are already at work on major transportation projects.

Prasad singled out Brightline, in particular. The commuter rail currently travels between major metropolitan areas in South Florida, but the company has plans to expand its service all the way to Central Florida.

“Guess what, folks? When Brightline comes to Orlando and eventually to Tampa, we will be the envy of the whole country. We will have the first major privately financed, operated and maintained intercity passenger rail in the state of Florida,” he said. “And if you haven’t taken a ride from Palm Beach to Miami, you should. It rivals any service that you can do in Europe.”

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


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