FILE - Interstate 95 north of Miami Florida

Traffic backs up on Interstate 95 north of Miami.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $91.4 billion fiscal 2021 budget request seeks nearly $10 billion for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), including $2.8 billion for highway construction, $865.7 million for lane resurfacing and $436.2 million for bridges.

DeSantis’ proposed "Bolder, Brighter, Better Future" budget plan allocates $9.9 billion for transportation, $856 million less than what lawmakers approved in this year’s budget for roads and infrastructure.

The governor’s plan includes – but doesn’t guarantee – $90 million in funding for the second year of the proposed Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES), a controversial 10-year, $10 billion plan to extend three Central Florida toll roads.

“As Florida’s population continues to increase, key investments must be made to handle this growth and ensure continued efficiency,” DeSantis said. “The investment will enable the FDOT to continue to deliver much needed transportation projects to meet the needs of a growing Florida for generations to come.”

Of the $9.922 billion in the transportation funding request, DeSantis wants to spend $8.8 billion on the FDOT’s five-year Work Program. Proposed expenditures include:

  • $2.8 billion for highway construction to build 52 new lane miles;
  • $865.7 million in resurfacing to include 2,057 new lane miles;
  • $119.7 million in seaport infrastructure enhancements;
  • $323.9 million for aviation improvements;
  • $436.2 million for scheduled repairs of 57 bridges and replacement of 18 bridges;
  • $686 million for rail/transit program advancements;
  • $212.9 million for safety initiatives.

The proposed $8.8 billion allocation for the department’s work plan will allow the FDOT to reduce congestion and establish Florida as a national leader in multimodal transportation, FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault said.

The budget request “is forward-thinking and shows Gov. DeSantis’ commitment to create a safe transportation system across Florida,” he said. “The budget provides infrastructure funding that will allow FDOT to continue to reduce congestion for all motorists and set Florida apart as a national leader in multimodal transportation.”

Relieving traffic congestion statewide is an economic development priority for his administration, DeSantis said.

“Safely reducing congestion on our roadways is a critical component of my vision for transportation in Florida,” he said. “This budget will ensure FDOT can invest in improvements to facilitate increased mobility and keep people and goods moving throughout our state.”

In introducing his budget request, the governor highlighted more than $480 million in savings gleaned from efficiencies, including the elimination of $84 million in “earmarks,” which are provisions inserted into discretionary appropriations bills that “reserve” funding in successive budgets.

The proposed M-CORES plan, which received a first-year allocation of $45 million in this year’s budget, calls for $90 million in fiscal 2021 funding, $135 million in fiscal 2022 and $140 million annually through fiscal 2030, totaling $1.1 billion by 2030, for financing a state turnpike bond to pay for the projects, which some estimate could cost $10 billion.

But that money is not necessarily “earmarked.” When lawmakers adopted Senate Bill 7068 to create three task forces to study the proposal, they stipulated funding must be approved each year by the Legislature.

A priority pushed by Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, M-CORES would build the 150-mile Southwest-Central Florida Connector from Lakeland to Naples; the Suncoast Connector, which would push the Florida Turnpike 40 miles west to link I-75 with the Suncoast Parkway; the Northern Turnpike Connector, which would extend the Suncoast Parkway 150 miles north to Georgia.

Construction would begin in 2022 and end in 2030.

M-CORES will be funded through license plate tag revenues – $1.1 billion over a decade – shifted from the state’s general fund into the State Transportation Trust Fund [STTF].

SB 7068 appropriated $45 million to study the proposal, which means proponents must return during the 2020 session to seek approval for M-CORES’ proposed $90 million fiscal 2021 allocation.

Beyond the study, M-CORES is only aspirational. The findings of three regional task forces created to study the proposal will determine if it becomes reality.

The state’s most ambitious highway-building project since the 1950s, M-CORES is adamantly opposed by the Sierra Club, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Florida Policy Institute, Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, Progress Florida and the League of Women Voters, among others, who issued a “declaration of war” against it.

The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI), which also opposes M-CORES, last week called for more transparency by the task forces studying the proposal.

“With so little information about the tolls publicly available, it will take years for Florida residents to understand the extensive, negative impacts tolls will have on their communities,” ATFI spokesperson Stephanie Kane said. “Tolls are taxes, and when taxes go up, so does the costs of living and doing business.”