By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida • Jan 30, 2023 at 5:11 pm
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday pitched a $7 billion proposal to speed completion of 20 highway projects — including a plan in Deerfield Beach to get drivers more quickly from the Sawgrass Expressway to Interstate 95.
DeSantis’ proposal comes as a deadline nears for him to roll out a budget blueprint for the upcoming fiscal year.
DeSantis described his four-year “Moving Florida Forward” proposal, which would use borrowed money and draw funding from reserves, as “things we’re going to have to do anyways.”
“These are all projects in the pipeline,” DeSantis said during an appearance at the SUNTRAX Test Facility Toll Operations in Auburndale. “They’ve been approved by local communities. They’re really ready to get going. We just need to put the funds in place.”
Deerfield Beach Mayor Bill Ganz said the Southwest 10th Street Connector Project has been in the works for years, a proposal to overhaul the stretch of the roadway the runs between the Sawgrass Expressway and I-95 in Deerfield Beach.
“This has been a very long process, and it hasn’t been a fun one” because people are terrified about the property values, he said.
But there is a major impact to the residents who live nearby and “will have it running through the middle of the western portion of our city. We have multiple neighborhoods who will be negatively impacted by this.”
The Connector Project aims to ease traffic for commuters who rely on a stretch of Southwest 10th Street situated between the Sawgrass Expressway and I-95. Drivers must use the street to go past many stoplights across nearly three miles of traffic. The overhaul would involve adding high-speed lanes, which would let drivers travel faster between I-95, the Sawgrass and Florida’s Turnpike. Southwest 10th Street would remain a local road, with lanes running along the edge of the express lanes.
Among the possibilities still being discussed will be the construction of sound walls, Ganz said.
Under DeSantis’ proposal, $178 million would go toward funding the Southwest 10th Street Connector Project, with the construction start year set for 2024.
Another South Florida example of the work in DeSantis’ plan would include $150 million to upgrade the Interstate 95 interchange at Golden Glades in Miami-Dade.
The proposal drew quick support from the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association, the Florida Engineering Society and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida. Allen Douglas, executive director of the engineering groups, called it “vital” that Florida build transportation infrastructure as it leads the nation in “net in-migration.”
“Further expediting major interstate and roadway projects will enhance local communities, support our thriving economy and help ensure our state’s infrastructure is prepared for generations to come,” Douglas said in a prepared statement.
Under DeSantis’ proposal, $4 billion would come from a general-revenue surplus, which has built up as the state has seen higher-than-expected tax collections and as it received federal stimulus money. The remaining $3 billion would be raised through “innovative financing,” according to Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue.
Florida has an annual transportation work plan, which this year received $12.6 billion.
Other projects under DeSantis’ plan would include: $1.451 billion to reconstruct Interstate 4 from ChampionsGate to the Osceola Parkway in Central Florida; $479 million to add auxiliary lanes to Interstate 75 between Wildwood and Ocala; $340 million to improve the Interstate 95 and U.S. 1 interchange in Ormond Beach; $162 million to widen Interstate 10 near Pensacola.
The road plan is expected to be part of a budget that DeSantis will propose for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, which will start July 1. DeSantis faces a Sunday deadline to release his proposed spending plan ahead of the annual legislative session, which will start March 7.
A spokesman for DeSantis on Monday said in an email that the budget proposal will be released “very soon.”
DeSantis has released a series of priorities in advance of the full budget rollout. Among other things, he has said he would seek $1 billion to enhance teacher pay, a $200 million increase from the current year. Also, he has said he would seek $3.5 billion over four years for environmental projects such as restoring the Everglades and addressing water-quality problems.
During last year’s re-election campaign, DeSantis said he would call for $1.1 billion in tax cuts, including an expansion of the annual back-to-school sales tax “holiday” and providing a permanent sales-tax exemption for baby and toddler items.
DeSantis’ proposed budget will serve as a starting point as lawmakers negotiate a final spending plan during the 60-day session.
Sun Sentinel staff Writer Lisa J. Huriash contributed to this report.