Florida's transportation budget is a disaster. It's an un-fixable mess. Only a people mired deep in delusion would consider it anything less than a fiscal emergency.
From the Tampa Bay Times earlier this year:
Florida's transportation system operates at a deficit with coffers so barren it will borrow to pay for almost all of its $9.1 billion in road and bridge obligations over the next year.
Yet, despite this bizarre state of affairs, the Florida Department of Transportation recently made an important announcement:
Construction of Florida's first Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI) is now underway at Interstate 75 and University Parkway. This innovative design offers a proven solution for improving overall traffic operations and safety for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.
A mere $74.5 million gets a cash-strapped FDOT into the prestigious DDI Club. And once again, just so we can all cheer in unison, the innovative design is being touted for its friendliness to cyclists and pedestrians. In fact, the shiny, happy pedestrians/cyclists even made the official rendering (notice them in the box in the lower right corner). All of you bent out of shape over Jeff Speck's bike lane video should redirect your energies.
They have even created the requisite video bling, propaganda for the digital age. I've set the video to start at those safe and inviting pedestrian features (which you have to wait through over six minutes of traffic obsession to get to).
There's this quote from around the 7:00 mark of that video:
Six of the eight pedestrian crossings are signal protected making walking through the interchange very safe.
Given the lengths we are going to here to ensure free flow of traffic, particularly when considering the financial decision being made to spend money the state clearly does not have, that assertion is surreal. Imagine if we applied that standard to cars? Six of the eight vehicle crossings were signal protected....for the rest, drivers can figure out their own way across the six lanes. Say what?
That quote is immediately followed by this one:
Between 80 and 90% of people surveyed believe that DDI's are safer for bikes and pedestrians?
Safer than what, exactly?
And for an agency that routinely estimates multi-million dollar projects to the second decimal place, you'd think that they'd be able to calculate survey responses to greater than ten percentage point accuracy.
The only thing that would complete this story is the twin delusions of our transportation funding debate. They can be found in that Tampa Bay Times article I cited at the top.
Delusion #1: We can, in the absence of any other reform, simple raise more revenue to fix this problem.
Hiking the federal gas tax for the first time in 22 years to send additional money to the states, a long-dormant idea that has shown faint signs of life as gas prices have dropped to longtime lows. Increasing the tax from its current 18.4 cents a gallon would raise billions more for the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is set to go broke June 1.
"Our infrastructure's on life support," Ray Lahood, the former Republican U.S. transportation secretary in President Obama's first term, said in November. "It's falling apart because we haven't made the investments. We haven't got the money."
Delusion #2: We can, in the absence of any other reform, find innovative ways (such as borrowing like there's no tomorrow) to pretend we don't need to be concerned with how to pay for what we want.
"I strongly urge Congress not to raise the federal gas tax or any tax and instead come up with innovative solutions to fund priorities as we have done in Florida," Gov. Rick Scott said in January as he urged the nation to follow Florida's lead in financing a "world class" system while cutting taxes.
This is all simply more bread and circuses. Maybe the Fed will print some more money and we can all pretend a little while longer.