A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jono Miller on Underfunding of Roads, Bridges, etc.

The Sarasota Herald Tribune sent me a questionnaire. I reserved the right to post their questions and my answers on my blog (They intend to post all of everyone's answers on their website.) Here is their question about underfunded roads and my response:

QUESTION: Sarasota County and the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization have underfunded budgets for roads, bridges and other forms of transportation infrastructure: 1. Why? 2. What, if anything, should be done?

ANSWER: My own brief history of Florida goes something like this: For a little more than 400 years Florida suffered for a lack of economic activity and actively engaged in luring settlers through a variety of inducements. If we use a fire analogy, Florida’s leaders piled on tinder for decades with little heat and light produced. Sometime after the Second World War, Florida caught fire. Shortly afterwards we probably should have cut back on the tax breaks and other inducements, gradually raising the ‘price of admission’ to cover anticipated infrastructure needs. But, in general, we didn’t. The result has been a missed opportunity and an infrastructure shortfall. The time to make growth pay for itself and get ahead is during the boom times, not when times are tough.

In our panic to address overwhelming calculated and perceived shortages of roads, we may be desperately working to solve a twentieth century problem that may actually be evaporating – if oil and gas prices keep climbing we may soon have greatly reduced traffic problems, more free lanes (and a whole lot of new problems).

Hidden in this issue is the reality of aging infrastructure. When a community starts, all infrastructure dollars can be ploughed into new construction. The older the operation, the greater percentage of funds that must be spent on maintaining, repairing and upgrading what already exists. Sarasota has been new for quite some time now and the fraction of road funds, for instance, that will need to be spent on taking care of roads will be an ever-increasing piece of the pie. That limits new initiatives.

One bridge-related problem is the game of chicken states play with the federal government. As I understand it, the feds will pay for emergency bridge repairs if the bridge is really at risk. They won’t pay for routine maintenance – that’s a state or local responsibility. So states let things get worse in hopes of successfully shifting the bill to the feds once the bridge is really dangerous. Perhaps our congressional representatives can do something about this.


POSTSCRIPT: Oil is now selling for over $145 a barrel -- or roughly 50% more than when I entered the campaign in January. No matter what happens with offshore or Alaskan oil, none of the present county commissioners are likely to be in office when gasoline from that oil starts flowing through Sarasota gas pumps. The County Commission's challenge will be to do what it can to offset, minimize, and mitigate the effects that dramatically higher fuel costs will have on commuters and other drivers.