Gaetz ready for road workby John Kennedy | March 13th, 2011
Lawmakers eager to save money are considering merging four expressway and bridge authorities under the Florida Turnpike Enterprise – a move certain to prompt controversy but which could save $24 million, supporters said.
Road authorities in the Orlando and Tampa area would be made part of the state system, along with two Panhandle bridge authorities.
Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, acknowledged the move was designed to stabilize his region’s Santa Rosa Bay Bridge Authority, currently running a $5 million deficit.
“It’s a money loser,” said Gaetz, whosaid the state could pocket staffing and infrastructure costs by consolidating the authorities. “We’re trying to find a way to help this sick puppy.”
The move also would increase the bonding power of the Florida Turnpike by $3.5 billion – allowing for more roadwork that could turn into more jobs, said Gaetz, who is spearheading the move as chairman of a Senate transportation budget panel.
Can Gaetz pull off the massive re-org? Much may depend on the political bargaining power the road authorities may hold. Orlando and Tampa’s road boards have had some powerful patrons through the years.
But Florida’s regional road authorities also usually seem only an exit ramp or two away from trouble. A grand jury two years ago accused the Orlando-area authority of making vendors face an “organized shakedown” that yielded campaign contributions for some of the region’s top elected officials.