Governors push road work

Crist and others urge creative ways to pay for infrastructure needs.

By Wes Allison, Times Staff Writer
Published February 25, 2008

WASHINGTON - Florida Gov. Charlie Crist joined governors from around the country Sunday in urging the federal government to pay more attention to the nation's crumbling and overburdened infrastructure.

At the annual meeting of the National Governors Association, Crist and the governors of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and elsewhere joined the Building America's Future Coalition, a new bipartisan group geared toward finding creative ways to pay for improvements to roads, bridges, dams and the like.

"The infrastructure of our country is something we need to pay attention to," Crist said. Although Crist's new budget calls for spending nearly $8-billion on infrastructure, "we need the help from our federal partners, we do need their input, and we do need their commitment."

The percent of the federal nonmilitary budget going to infrastructure has declined in the past 40 years. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the national infrastructure needs more than $1-trillion worth of work over the next five years.

However, state and federal budgets are tight. At a session with the governors Sunday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said thousands of federal projects are ready to go but haven't been funded.

The coalition says one solution is to expand the use of public-private partnerships to federal projects. They allow businesses to help finance public projects, commonly in return for interest payments or a share of tolls.

Crist is a big fan, and public-private partnerships are expanding Interstate 75 in southwest Florida, Interstate 575 in South Florida and Interstate 4 between St. Petersburg and Orlando.

Wes Allison can be reached at allison@sptimes.com or 202 463-0577.