Fried highlights benefits of infrastructure bill in visit to Jacksonville

Agriculture Commissioner and Democratic candidate for governor says ‘historic bill’ will benefit Floridians

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried was in Jacksonville on Wednesday. (WJXT)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – During a visit to Jacksonville on Wednesday, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried continued to tout the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as an important investment in Florida’s infrastructure and economy.

The $1 trillion bill now on President Joe Biden’s desk is slated to bring about $19 billion to the Sunshine State -- with the possibility for another $30 billion, Fried said. The bill will allow states to compete for additional money tied to highways, bridges and electric-vehicle charging stations. Florida should also draw some of the $3.5 billion designated for a national weatherization program intended to reduce energy costs for families.

“There’s never going to be enough money to fix these infrastructure issues. But this is a significant amount. And, again, if done correctly, is going to provide economic opportunities and job growth and make sure that we’re also saving a lot of money,” Fried said, pointing out that fixing roads means less than for repairs to people’s personal vehicles. “That saves money to the individuals.”

While individual projects were not announced, the White House fact sheet said Florida is in line for:

  • $13.1 billion for highway programs and $245 million for bridge replacements and repairs.
  • $2.6 billion to improve public transportation across the state.
  • $1.6 billion for water improvements.
  • $1.2 billion for airport development.
  • $198 million to expand an electric-vehicle charging network.
  • A minimum of $100 million to expand broadband coverage, with a projection that it will provide access to at least 707,000 Floridians.
  • $29 million for cybersecurity.
  • $26 million to protect against wildfires.

Fried pointed to the poor conditions of Florida’s 3,500 miles of highways and more than 400 bridges.

“I know specifically, the ones here in Jacksonville are the heart of this area,” Fried said of the city’s bridges.

She also highlighted the disparity for those taking public transportation.

“In Florida, those taking public transportation spent an extra 80% of their time commuting, with persons of color disproportionately impacted by these commuting times with non-white households, three and a half times more likely to use public transportation,” Fried said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who Fried hopes to unseat next year, has questioned “pork-barrel” spending in the bill while also arguing Florida might not get its fair share.

“It seems like there’s a disproportionate amount of money going to New York and New Jersey, and that Florida is not getting a really significant share out of over $1 trillion,” DeSantis said Tuesday while in Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Hernando County. “I mean, they’re saying we’re gonna get what, $20 billion, like that’s not a lot compared to how big, you know, the state is.”

Fried said she hasn’t compared Florida’s slice of the pie to other states but said it wasn’t surprising that DeSantis had.

“I think it’s ironic that he calls it ‘pork spending’ and then in the same breath says it’s not enough money,” Fried said. “Nothing in these bills are partisan. It is about investing in our communities, investing in our residents and investing in our futures. These are much-needed and long-overdue investments to make our communities safer to make our infrastructure more efficient.”

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Florida a “C” grade on a 2021 infrastructure report card, just above the national “C-minus” rating. New York and New Jersey both drew “C-minus” grades.

“Policymakers must understand we are only as strong as our weakest link -- if our roadways become too rough to travel, if our bridges close to heavier traffic like ambulances, or if our levees protect one community at the expense of the one next door, the economy grinds to a halt,” the society said in the annual report’s executive summary.

About the Author:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.