Florida Gov. Rick Scott is directing the state's Department of Transportation to "fully fund" a shortfall so the Port of Miami can dredge its harbor to 50 feet and take the bigger cargo ships coming when the Panama Canal opens larger locks.
Scott told a crowd at the Miami port that he ordered the Florida DOT on March 4 "to amend their work plan to include $77 million (for the project) so that Florida can take another leap forward in international trade."
Miami is one of several East Coast ports racing to dig deeper harbors so they can take much larger container ships in a few years. When Miami's port provides a depth of 50 feet, it can take the "New Panamax" ships coming through an expanded Panama Canal in 2014 and become a first port of call for them, the governor's office said.
He made the announcement the same morning that he finally rejected $2.4 billion in federal grants to build a high-speed passenger rail service between Tampa and Orlando. But the dredging, Scott said, "is the type of infrastructure project that will pay permanent, long-term dividends, and provide a solid return on investment for Florida's taxpayers."
When he first announced his intention to kill that project Feb 16, Scott had also urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to put the money instead into dredging at two of Florida's ports, plus an intermodal facility and highway expansions. But the rail program funds by law must be used within that program, so when a state rejects a grant project the money goes to other states for rail use.
Scott drew sharp criticism from officials in his state for rejecting a passenger rail plan that could have created 24,000 jobs and been the first part of an eventual bullet train service extending south to Miami. But his office said the Miami dredge project is expected to bring 30,000 new jobs to the region.
"This is a solid first step toward enhancing Florida's infrastructure and getting our state ready for a new generation of international trade with South America and beyond," said Scott. "There are a number of worthy infrastructure projects that deserve our attention, and as Floridians we know best where our resources should be focused."
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.