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MARCO ISLAND — 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.
“We’ve cleared one more hurdle. We’re closer to the reality of getting the bridge than we’ve ever been,” said Bill Trotter, Marco city councilor and Collier County Metropolitan Planning Organization member.
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.
“It’s a great project that Florida Department of Transportation officials have said will create some 800 jobs. It will not only help in the event of hurricane evacuation, but will help with traffic flow and avoiding shut down of the bridge during maintenance,” said Trotter.
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 from 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.
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.
The federal 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.
“We are very fortunate to get this because several of those other projects may be falling through,” Trotter said.
Final approval for the $28 million bridge project is expected to come through the Federal Highway Administration in the coming weeks.