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The Florida Roundup
The Florida Roundup is a live, weekly call-in show with a distinct focus on the issues affecting Floridians. Each Friday at noon, listeners can engage in the conversation with journalists, newsmakers and other Floridians about change, policy and the future of our lives in the sunshine state.Join our host, WLRN’s Tom Hudson, broadcasting from Miami.

What Florida can expect from infrastructure spending bill and how it could be spent

A city street is seen closed for repairs and upgrades
John Raoux
A city street is seen closed for repairs and upgrades, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Orlando.

Billions of dollars are on their way to Florida as part of the new infrastructure spending bill. Water projects may be the priority, according to a new report card.

Billions of dollars for roads, bridges and internet broadband will be coming to Florida over the next five years. President Joe Biden will sign the infrastructure bill into law Monday.

The trillion-dollar-plus spending plan earmarks money for a list of projects — transportation, public transit, electric vehicle recharging stations, and clean water projects among them.

There was some bipartisan support for the bill, but not among the Florida congressional delegation. Democrats in this state voted for it. Republicans against it.

Gov. Ron DeSantis described the legislation this way Monday: “I think it was a lot of pork-barrel spending from what I can tell.”

One of the Democrats hoping to win DeSantis’s job in next year’s election — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — called the new money a beginning.

“This is a great starting place. Is it ever going to be enough? No, but certainly this is historic in what we can do moving forward,” she said.

While there are a number of categories for projects, most of the Florida-destined money will go toward roads — about $13 billion of the $19 billion, according to the Miami Herald's Washington correspondent Alex Daugherty.

"The White House says its the biggest investment in roads since the interstate highway system was approved in 1956," Daugherty said.

The Florida Department of Transportation is taking a wait-and-see approach ahead of the presidential signature making it law. Then the funding will be subject to spending formulas and state desires.

"It's going to be a huge investment that ultimately the state is going to have a large say on how that money is spent," Daugherty said.

The money comes as Florida's infrastructure received a "C" in a bi-decade report from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

"I have two kids and if either one of them brought me a 'C' report card. I don't think I'd be too pleased with it," said Tzufit Boyle, president of the Florida Section of American Society of Civil Engineers.

"A 'C' is pretty much, you're kind of going along and you might be OK for a while, but you really should start focusing on improvements," she said.

Florida's roads and bridges are in better shape than the state's overall infrastructure according to the report. It gives roads a 'C+' and bridges a 'B' grade.

Some of the report's lowest grades in Florida have to do with water infrastructure — stormwater, dams and levees.

"A lot of municipalities don't have a stormwater plan that they can account for the way that the water moves around their system," Boyle said. She also pointed to the continued use of septic tanks and drainage fields contributing to surface water issues.

"For drinking water, there has been a pretty good investment in water infrastructure. We are still able to meet the demands into the future, not as much into the future as we'd like to see, but there's still capacity and there's still opportunity for more growth," she said.

Beyond the roads and water, Florida would get $100 million to expand internet broadband according to the White House. The administration said it would help connect 700,000 Floridians to the internet who currently are not online.

Low-income residents also will be eligible for a subsidy to help pay for internet service. They would have to meet federal low income standards to qualify for the $30 a month internet subsidy.

"The White House is saying, 'Hey, this is infrastructure,' even though it may not be a traditional thing that we may think of like an airport or a road or a bridge," said Daugherty. "Its argument is the internet [is] now a piece of our daily lives and should be treated just like those things are."

Another $200 million would be geared to boost the electric vehicle recharging system.

"It's definitely a priority of the administration to incentivize people to use and buy electric cars," he said.

Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.