Eighteen bridges and roads in the Jacksonville area are on a funding list that’s headed to President Obama’s desk.
The bipartisan measure earmarks $12 billion for Florida projects.
Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, helped negotiate the bill’s passage.
Nelson is standing in his high-rise office on Jacksonville’s Southbank. He’s pointing across the St. Johns River to Liberty Street, where chunks of the road have fallen into the water.
“That is one of the projects that will be eligible for these $12 billion coming into Florida,” Nelson says. “Not to speak of which, lots of repairs on I-95, I-10, I-75 and so many of our ports around the state.”
Nelson adds, there are 17 other streets and bridges in the Bold City that are considered “structurally deficient.”
They include parts of University Boulevard North along the Arlington River, A1A at Simpson Creek and a Service Road along the San Pablo River.
Nelson says the $305 billion highway-funding bill also lets cities plan better.
“A five-year funding bill so governments can employ contractors on a long-term basis has not been done in 17 years,” Nelson says.
He says the traditional source of highway funding — the gas tax — is drying up with fewer and more efficient cars on the road.
“As a result of that, we had to come up with a variety of funding means and if you want a list, but it’s down in the weeds on little tax here, little tax there,” Nelson says.
Florida state and local governments will ultimately decide how the $12 billion will be spent.
In addition to the highway bill, Nelson is also announcing he’ll file a measure to strengthen airport security in the wake of the downing of a Russian airliner that was apparently downed by an ISIS bomb over Egypt the last day of October.
“Three hundred airports, including Jacksonville, do not give the level of security screening to their airport employees that they do to their passengers,” Nelson says.
Nelson says he’s confident in the screening process for passengers, but mentions a recent case where a baggage handler in Atlanta was caught using his security clearance to sell and smuggle weapons to passengers.
Nelson also lambasted efforts by Florida Republican Congressman John Mica to privatize the Transportation Security Administration.
“Privatizing TSA is not going anywhere, and that is a bad idea. What we need is federally trained officials operating to the standards that we want security,” Nelson says.
Nelson says his proposal would enhance background checks and require TSA to increase aviation worker screening.
Currently, Miami and Orlando are the country’s only airports where the enhanced screening is taking place.