Florida district transportation secretary Stan Cann today came to the defense of Gov. Charlie Crist and the way the state is spending federal stimulus money.
Cann told the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group of elected officials that prioritizes road spending, that criticism is unfounded. That criticism came in a letter a few weeks ago from Rep. James Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Oberstar took Crist and Florida to task for having spent only 2 percent of the more than $1 billion in stimulus funding the state's received. The state then ranked 51st - behind even the District of Columbia - in per capita stimulus spending.
"It was very critical, and needless to say it rubbed us the wrong way," Cann said.
Cann said that Florida, unlike other states, is not using stimulus money to supplant existing funding. The projects Florida has committed to, like the Metro Parkway extension south of Fort Myers, are new work that wasn't otherwise funded, Cann said.
"It was totally out," he said. "We brought it back in."
Florida isn't doing resurfacing with the new money, Cann said, though some states have spent half their allotment there.
Cape Coral Mayor Jim Burch disagreed.
"I probably ally myself more with Congressman Oberstar than the governor," he said.
Burch recalled a radio appearance he made with a mayor from Idaho.
"We're at $1.84 per capita," he said. "They were at $287."
Burch said if Florida doesn't qualify for as much stimulus money in the future it's the state's own fault.
"If we don't get the money it's because we've chosen not to take the money," he said. "Has the state of Florida done a good job? We have not."
Cann said the Metro project, a new four-lane road between Alico Road and Daniels Parkway, will begin within a few weeks.
"As of now we've advertised for $1.1 billion of the $1.3 billion we got," Cann said. "We've awarded over $300 million and work will be underway very shortly."
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The U.S. 41 widening in Estero and San Carlos Park may be further delayed.
Future stimulus money for Lee County will be headed for Cape Coral first.
The Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization prioritized transportation projects for $5 million in federal stimulus money Friday. With a unanimous vote the MPO put three Cape Coral sidewalks projects worth almost $1 million atop the list.
A compromise fashioned by state district transportation secretary Stan Cann also kept the widening of Six Mile Cypress Parkway between Daniels Parkway and Winkler Avenue in the money.
The $5 million came available when the first county stimulus project, the Metro Parkway extension from Alico Road to Daniels, came in under budget.
Falling down the priority list was the widening of U.S. 41 between Corkscrew Road and San Carlos Boulevard. The job won't get any of the $5 million, though it remained near the top of the priority list for any future stimulus money. That job finished second on the future priority list behind $1 million worth of intersection work at the busy Viscaya Parkway-Del Prado intersection in north Cape Coral.
"I don't like that, but it's a small setback,' said Estero resident Don Eslick, who had urged the MPO to keep 41 on top.
The Six Mile Cypress work will be done using a combination of the federal stimulus; a county match and leftover state grant funding. Cann crafted the deal.
"All these projects are very important to us," he said. "We can put it to bid and create jobs."