By Elaine L. Chao, Guest Columnist, Orlando Sentinel
President Donald Trump has announced a bold, innovative plan for improving and investing in America’s infrastructure. The proposal is the culmination of a year-long effort between Cabinet agencies, including the Department of Transportation, with significant input from state, local, and private sector leaders. It is designed to change how infrastructure is built, financed and maintained in communities across the country.
A national discussion on how we build and fund our roads, bridges, tunnels, seaports, airports, rural infrastructure and transit systems is long overdue. As U.S. Secretary of Transportation, I’ve had countless conversations with governors and local officials across the country — including Florida Gov. Rick Scott — about strengthening America’s critical infrastructure. Florida is doing it the right way.
One project in particular is the I-4 Ultimate Project. I-4 Ultimate will help transform Central Florida by rebuilding 21 miles of interstate. From its inception in 1965, I-4 has been a vital east-west connector that cuts through Central Florida, serving as the main transportation corridor from Daytona Beach to Tampa.
I-4 Ultimate includes the addition of two new dynamic tolled Express Lanes in each direction, replacing more than 140 bridges, reconfiguring 15 major interchanges, and reconstructing the entire existing roadway. By utilizing a public-private partnership procurement method, the Florida Department of Transportation will deliver the project in seven years where standard funding options projected it would take 27 years to complete. When finished, the project is expected to decrease travel times by increasing options for commuters and visitors in central Florida.
The $2.3 billion construction project is benefiting from more than $1 billion in private financing from the concessionaire, I-4 Mobility Partners, including private bank loans, Federal TIFIA loans, and private investment. As such, the project also needs a workforce, including engineers, designers, skilled workers, as well as all that goes into supplying product and equipment along the way. This means jobs for Central Florida.
Unfortunately, Florida is the exception, not the norm. One out of every five miles of U.S. highway pavement is in poor condition. Americans spent an estimated 6.9 billion hours delayed in traffic in 2014, or 42 hours per driver. Almost 40 percent of America’s bridges are more than 50 years old.