DeSantis Proposes $7 Billion Plan to Fight Florida Traffic Congestion, Improve Safety

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a $7 billion initiative on Jan. 30 to speed up 20 infrastructure projects over the next four years to accommodate the growing number of people who rely on the state’s roadways.

Speaking at a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) office in Auburndale, DeSantis said the Moving Florida Forward plan would accelerate projects across the state and “bring them to completion more than a decade ahead of schedule.”

DeSantis’ proposal combines $4 billion from budget surplus, plus another $3 billion he said the state could borrow at favorable rates due to its good credit rating to bring the project total to $7 billion.

Lending support to the governor’s plan was FDOT Secretary Jared Perdue.

“FDOT’s efforts remain focused on meeting transportation needs that enhance the quality of life for residents, preserve our environment and ensure Florida’s infrastructure is safe and resilient for the future,” Perdue said. “[the projects] will help relieve congestion while focusing on safety, resiliency, the supply chain and economic growth.”

The event took place at the 475-acre SunTrax testing facility, run by FDOT and Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise. The site is dedicated to research, development and testing of emerging transportation technologies in controlled environments.

SunTrax is located in Polk Country, between Tampa and Orlando, about a half hour southwest of Disney World, off Interstate 4.  As the governor ticked off specific projects in his plan, the proposals for Central Florida to improve interchanges, widen highways, and put in express lanes drew loud cheers and applause.

“The problem is, on the current course, some of these things won’t be completed for 20 years,” DeSantis said “And so I don’t think we can wait 20 years to get this kind of relief.”

DeSantis has been busy in January, following his second-term inauguration on Jan. 3, speaking across the state to roll out new programs while demonstrating that the potential presidential candidate isn’t resting on his laurels.

In almost every press conference, he cites the state’s progress under his leadership. He emphasizes Florida’s strong business growth and low unemployment rate. He reminds people that other states with different types of leadership are losing population while Florida is growing.

“Florida’s been the promised land for so many people who want to live in a free state,” he said at the Auburndale press conference.

NTD Photo
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, on November 19, 2022. (Wade Vandervort/AFP via Getty Images)

As he has in other press conferences, DeSantis reiterated that the state’s unemployment rate is historically low at 2.5 percent. And while some states suffered a shrinking workforce during the COVID lockdown, Florida’s labor force has grown by 3.5 percent—well ahead of the national average and suggesting its low unemployment represents real, not just statistical, gains.

Florida’s growth puts pressure on its highway grid, DeSantis told his audience. The state had 105 million visitors in the first three-quarters of 2022 and had a population growth of 1.9 percent through net in-migration alone, he said.

This highway project, DeSantis said, is possible because of the state’s large budget surplus, $22 billion at the end of 2022, which positions the state well to weather predicted economic downturns.

“You want to have money tucked away,” DeSantis said, contrasting it to California’s $25 billion deficit.

It also makes possible tax rebates.

“We gotta get some of this money back to taxpayers, which we are doing,” he said.

Florida commuters will get a 50 percent rebate on the tolls they pay, something that was legislated during a special legislative session in December, the governor said. They will therefore start seeing them in February on their January bills. And the state will make permanently tax-free purchases for baby-related supplies such as diapers, baby food, strollers, cribs, and clothing.

“It’s only possible because we’ve been prudent with how we’ve managed fiscal policy, we tax lightly, we spent conservatively and we regulated very reasonably,” DeSantis said.

Following DeSantis, two small businesspeople went to the podium to speak of the impact traffic congestion has on their lives and businesses.

Vicky Ortiz, a Winter Park mother of two and an insurance consultant, said that some days between work and family activities, she spends 70 percent of her time on the road. Recent highway improvements have already significantly improved her life, she said, increasing the number of clients she can see in a day and reducing her commuting time as she takes her daughter, who plays travel volleyball, to team events.

“Right now is a perfect example,” Ortiz said. “With the new express lanes, congestion in downtown almost non-existent to minimal. I shaved today 30 minutes (off my time) to get here.”

Josh Borem of Borem Fire Protection calculated the financial impact traffic congestion has on his and his brother’s firm of 14 employees. He said they spend an estimated 480 hours a year sitting still on I-4.

“That’s 12 weeks of work I’m paying people not to do anything. That’s $12,000 annually my company is spending.” And, he added, it costs them $50,000 in lost revenue.

It has limited the company’s ability to grow despite demand, Borem said. They grow 12 to 15 percent annually but discourage new business in and around Orlando because of the traffic. They could grow 50 percent in two years, he said, if traffic permitted, and their technicians could get around faster to see customers who need service.

Improving traffic would help the business, take pressure off employees, and generate more tax revenue, Borem said.

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