Scott asks DOT to fund Tamiami Trail project

OKEECHOBEE — Florida Senator Rick Scott is urging the U.S. Department of Transportation to grant funding to raise another 6.5 miles of the Tamiami Trail.

On March 27, Senator Scott sent a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao urging the department to grant funding through the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program to complete Phase II of the Tamiami Trail Modification Next Step project.

He wrote: “People from across the world come to Florida because of the state’s natural beauty. Over my eight years as governor, I championed record funding for the Everglades, Florida’s springs, beaches and state parks. That included more than $2 billion to restore the Everglades and South Florida’s ecosystem.

“We worked hard to make sure Florida’s natural resources are preserved so the state can remain a top destination for families, visitors and businesses. While I was governor, the state invested nearly $1 billion more than the federal government to implement the 50/50 cost share in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. The restoration of the Everglades is a huge undertaking that requires both federal and state participation.

“In late 2013, I recommended that the state fund $90 million towards the Tamiami Trail Modifications Next Step Phase I, in partnership with the National Park Service’s $90 million commitment. This project is vital to increase freshwater flows to Everglades National Park and ultimately the Florida Bay, which will help protect our waterways, restore the ecosystem, and improve wildlife. In 2015, the Florida Department of Transportation, the National Park Service, and the Federal Highway Administration signed a Memorandum of Agreement to begin Phase I of the project, which will be completed in May 2019.

“With the completion of the Tamiami Trail Modification Next Step Phase I, it is time to begin Phase II to raise the remaining 6.5 miles of the Tamiami Trail, which will continue to aid in the natural flow of fresh water to the historic Everglades National Park. I am committed to continuing this strong federal-state partnership to finish the Tamiami Trail, and Governor DeSantis is building on our work by recommending $40 million through the Florida Department of Transportation’s work program in his 2019-2020 recommended budget. The National Park Service has applied for a Federal Department of Transportation grant through the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program to supplement the remaining $60 million to successfully complete this critical project.

“I strongly support the Federal Department of Transportation granting the Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects Program, subject to all applicable laws and regulations, to provide construction funding to the Tamiami Trail Modification Next Step Phase II project, which will significantly increase the flow of water and provide vital health to the Everglades National Park. I have always believed that federal funds should only be allocated to state projects where the state puts up their fair share and there is a strong return on investment. Florida has repeatedly proven to be that strong partner, like when we committed $100 million in state funds to help expedite the repairs on the Herbert Hoover Dike, which is on schedule to be completed in 2022.”

Structure S-333 and Tamiami Trail.

Tamiami Trail History

One of the biggest hurdles to the success of Everglades restoration is the Tamiami Trail, originally constructed between 1915 and 1928, which connects Tampa to Miami. The unintended consequence of the road is that it acts as a man-made dam, holding back the sheet flow from the Everglades to Florida Bay, which has suffered from periodic localized droughts.

When the road was first built, if water levels were high, the state just let it flood and closed the road until water receded. The traffic of today’s Florida requires the busy road stays open, which means water levels are adjusted elsewhere in the system to keep the road dry, resulting in problems elsewhere in the watershed.

Scientists and water managers have been aware of the problem for a long time. They have proposed solutions using bridges to raise the roadway and allow water to pass underneath. But as often happens with Everglades projects, funding issues caused delays, and progress comes in small steps.

In 2005, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed an 11-mile bridge west of Miami.
One mile of bridging was completed in 2013. In 2016, $180 million was allocated for the next section of bridging with the cost shared 50-50 by U.S. Department of the Interior and the State of Florida for a 2.6 mile bridge, about four and half miles west of the one-mile bridge.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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