TALLAHASSEE — In less time than it takes to drive across the capital city, a panel of lawmakers on Wednesday approved a $3.8 billion package of federal economic stimulus funds that includes $28 million to expand the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge on Marco Island and millions more in road projects for Southwest Florida.
Without debate, the Joint Legislative Budget Commission approved the slate of local transportation projects as part of a federal package backers say will help the state recover from the worst recession in decades.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 includes 587 projects that state transportation officials say can be started — some almost immediately — to resurface and widen roads, landscape and provide transportation services on Pensacola to Key West.
In Collier, the federal money would help build a new two-lane bridge next to the existing bridge, making two lanes each way. It also would pay to rehab the current bridge and for the road work necessary for the new bridge.
Lee County would also see millions in expansion and improvement projects.
“Infrastructure money for our area is vital,” said Rep. Nick Thompson, R-Fort Myers. “Even though the economic downturn has hit us hard, we still have tourists coming to our area and we need to relieve traffic congestion.”
In late February, the Collier Metropolitan Planning Organization voted to keep the $55 million bridge expansion at the top of the list for federal stimulus money. The federal package also includes $5 million for Collier County to use on the Jolley Bridge.
The bridge topped the list of Southwest Florida projects that are ready to go. Some had been deferred in response to state revenue declines.
The act sends $122 million into the five Southwest Florida counties that make up Florida Department of Transportation’s District 1.
The highest single award goes to the Metro Parkway extension in Lee County, a four-lane road from Alico Road north to Six Mile Cypress Parkway. The shovel-ready job gets the $62 million it needs for construction.
FDOT originally bid the project in 2004 expecting to pay around $39 million. The low bid came in at $56 million. Metro has been on local road project lists since at least the late 1990s. The Metro project includes $5 million awarded to Lee County.
The panel, which is obligated to review all state spending, was required to approve the provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 approved by Congress earlier this year. State and local officials submitted proposals to federal agencies in charge of divvying up the $788 billion stimulus package.
Among the major provisions are $1.9 billion for Medicaid services by ramping up the percentage the federal government pays. Another $571 million is earmarked for public schools and another $5 million for school lunch programs.
Transportation officials told panelists many of the projects are ready to go but were deferred when trust fund revenues fell. Those projects could resume in relatively short order once the paperwork clears over the next several weeks.
“These are turn-dirt, immediate projects that will allow us to create jobs across the state,” said Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, and co-chairman of the budget commission.
Other Lee County awards include adding paved shoulders to Buckingham Road between State Road 82 and Neal Road ($800,000.) A new left turn lane where Daniels Parkway meets Bell Tower road will cost $600,000.
Adding a bike lane to Summerlin Road where it runs through the Sanibel Causeway toll plaza — which includes 2.1 miles of bike lane — will cost $535,969. A new dual left turn lane at Sunshine and Lee boulevards in Lehigh Acres will cost $500,000. Building a new left turn lane at Homestead Road and Milwaukee Boulevard, also in Lehigh, will cost $100,000.
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