(Center Square) In an ongoing rift between the Biden administration and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, federal funding for bridges is now a bone of contention.
“Last week, the Biden administration announced it would continue to harm Florida for its success,” the governor said in a statement highlighting how federal funds are being administered to states for Highway Infrastructure Programs (HIP) funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
States run by Democratic governors that reported population declines received the most money, while Florida received less money disproportionately after reporting the largest net gain of residents last year and nearly a 15% increase in its population over the past decade.
Florida’s allocation accounts for 0.92% of the $26.5 billion allocated to all 50 states, the Florida Department of Transportation notes, compared to the 4.78% of highway funding Florida’s normally received.
The HIP, administered by the Federal Highway Administration, “represents the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system,” the U.S. Department of Transportation said. Through its Bridge Formula Program, funding is expected to help repair approximately 15,000 highway bridges nationwide.
While states previously were expected to match federal funding with up to 20% state or local funding, federal funds in this latest round can be used for 100% of the cost of repairing or rehabilitating locally owned off-system bridges, the DOT says.
Of the funding, allocated over five years, California received the most of over $4.2 billion, followed by New York’s $1.89 billion and Illinois’ $1.37 billion, compared to Florida’s $244.9 million. Several states received the lowest amount of funding of $225 million.
The three blue states that received the most money all reported population declines over the past two years and in the last census count. They were also facing significant budget deficits prior to receiving federal bailouts from Congress in 2020 and 2021. Fewer residents and less revenue combined with poor fiscal policy shouldn’t be rewarded by more funds, DeSantis argues.
Florida, on the other hand, has led the nation in economic recovery and job creation and remains a top tourist destination. It became the third most populous state in the U.S. after the 2020 Census count. Between July 2020 and July 2021, Florida gained on net 220,890 residents from other states, the largest net gain in the U.S.
With nearly 22 million residents, and one of the top tourist destinations in the country, Florida’s roads and bridges are in greater demand but got far less money, DeSantis and the state’s head of transportation argue.
“Florida is a national leader in transportation infrastructure, and as a result, a bold and proactive approach should be rewarded, not penalized,” Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault said. “FDOT takes great pride in achieving a level of maintenance that meets and exceeds the established standards and expectations, and it is disheartening to see Florida will not benefit as much as others because we have proactively maintained our critical transportation system.”
DeSantis says the funding allocation is an example of the Biden administration continuing “to punish states that are succeeding. Despite obstacles created by the Biden Administration, the State of Florida continues to thrive and foster an environment that draws new residents and tourists every single day. By doing so, Florida has continued to grow, and our infrastructure must be able to keep up the pace. The Biden Administration though is short-changing Florida yet again.”
The DOT claims the funding is based on the number of bridges in poor condition, and not all bridges are equal. They aren’t the same size or require the same level of repairs.
For example, New York’s receiving nearly $1.9 billion to repair 1,702 bridges, four times the number of bridges needing repair in Florida, according to DOT. Pennsylvania’s receiving over $1.6 billion to repair 3,353 bridges, eight times the number of bridges in poor condition in Florida. Illinois’ receiving nearly $1.4 billion to repair 2,374 bridges, more than five times the number of bridges in poor condition in Florida.
Stephanie Pollack, DOT Federal Highway deputy administrator, who released the report, says she “computed the apportionment to each State, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico of the amounts appropriated for the HIP bridge replacement, rehabilitation, preservation, protection, and construction program in the manner provided by law.”
Florida has more than 12,500 bridges statewide, and according to the Bridge Formula Program, 408 bridges were identified as in poor condition to warrant federal funding. The state has fewer bridges on the list, DeSantis and Thibault argue, because Florida’s bridges were better maintained and taxpayer dollars better stewarded.
Florida is getting $244.9 million to repair 408 bridges, according to the federal formula, but Washington’s getting $605.1 million to repair 416 bridges, DeSantis argues. Florida’s population is roughly three times the size of Washington’s, and more Floridians and tourists are traveling on Florida highways and bridges than on Washington’s.
New Jersey is receiving over $1.1 billion to repair 502 bridges, just 94 more bridges than Florida’s, but is receiving five times the amount of money. Connecticut is receiving $561.4 million, more than double Florida’s allotment, to repair 248 bridges. Biden’s home state of Delaware is receiving $225 million to repair only 19 bridges.