Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mica’s Congressional Antics Endanger Major Florida Highway Project

One of the prominent members of Florida’s Congressional delegation is House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica of Winter Park. Ordinarily, that would mean that Florida’s federally funded highway projects see top priority around Washington. D.C. However, this busy construction season, just the opposite is the case. Mica’s past positions and his inability to rally his own party’s support around any compromise in the conference committee negotiations over the once again stalled federal Highway Trust Fund reauthorization legislation to replace the band aid interim extension which expires next week are putting in peril plans to widen Interstate 4, the Daytona to Tampa expressway which is the closest Interstate to Mica’s house.

The I-4 road construction proposal, to add toll lanes in the median to the highway’s free lanes in each direction, runs afoul of the provisions Mica used the power of his chairmanship to insert in the 2005 Highway Trust Fund reauthorization legislation, which prohibit the addition of toll charging so called “Lexus Lanes” to Interstates which are now freeways. Mica has dropped his Lexus Lane opposition, but changing the law depends on passage of a long term Highway Trust Fund reauthorization bill removing the partial toll prohibition.

Despite Mica’s powerful Congressional leadership position, he can’t rally enough Republican support behind the Senate passed, two year, $109 billion Highway Trust Fund reauthorization bill to get conference committee approval of the measure without including pet Republican add-ons like fast track approval of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, and the tea-party favored extra which would delete all funds for bike path construction and other highway beautification programs.

The I-4 widening proposal depends in large part on the investment of private funds through bonds which could only be repaid out of toll revenues collected on the newly built lanes. Work on the highway, planned to start turning over dirt in 2014, will be delayed well beyond that time frame if the conference committee, on which Mica sits, only manages to kick the can down the road past the upcoming Presidential election in November with another six month band aid interim reauthorization. While Mica is busy beating the Republican Party drum for the XL Pipeline, which is just an election year campaign rhetoric issue, his own neighbors and constituents down in Florida are facing lost construction job opportunities and worsening traffic jams because of his failure of leadership.

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