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State looks to ‘make the most’ of light traffic

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis wants about $2.1 billion in road projects sped up across the state to lessen the economic damage from the novel coronavirus.

DeSantis on Wednesday named construction projects in Nassau County, Orlando, Tampa, West Palm Beach and Miami that are being moved up by weeks or months and said transportation officials have been directed to find more as the virus cuts down on traffic.

“It’s sad that we’re in this situation, but I’m glad that we’re able to make the most of it,” DeSantis told reporters in his Capitol office.

With jobless claims spiking and most of the hospitality industry shut down or dramatically scaled back, DeSantis said he’s seen from his travels across the state that traffic on many heavily traveled thoroughfares has become just a “trickle.”

“I think that there is an opportunity to take advantage of that,” DeSantis said. “We have roads that if you were to do a lot of construction on would cause massive traffic (congestion) in normal circumstances. That may not be the case now.”

The directive comes as he also issued an executive order Wednesday calling for Floridians to stay at home for the next month.

DeSantis held separate calls Wednesday with President Donald Trump and state Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault, who in a news release said the road projects will “provide much needed jobs throughout the state.”

DeSantis said he told Thibault that progress can be made on several key projects as workers are able to close more lanes and operate longer during the day without impeding traffic.

DeSantis said he expects the state agency to implement safety guidelines to help prevent construction workers from getting COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

“The good thing about the construction stuff, they’re going to be outside, it’s been really hot and humid, but I think it’s going to cool off a little bit,” DeSantis said. “As long as they’re not on top of each other, I think that they’ll be good.”

Thibault said workers will have “sanitation supplies” recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Trump on Tuesday tweeted about undertaking another round of federal stimulus, this time $2 trillion on public works programs.

“With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long-awaited Infrastructure Bill,” Trump tweeted. “It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4.”

Among the Florida projects:

  • Advancing by two months a “diverging diamond” interchange on A1A at Interstate 95 in Nassau County.
  • Advancing by four weeks an $802 million project involving Interstate 395, Interstate 95 and State Road 836 in Miami-Dade County.
  • Moving up by nearly four weeks work on a new eight-lane Howard Frankland Bridge to link Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, an $864 million project.
  • Advancing by nearly three months, the widening of Southern Boulevard in western Palm Beach County.
  • Moving up four to six weeks a project involving Sand Lake Road near International Drive and Universal Boulevard in Orlando.
  • Advancing by one week the first phase of construction on the U.S. 1 Cow Key Bridge at Key West.
  • Moving up two weeks a paving project on Interstate 75 at the State Road 70 interchange in Manatee County.
  • Advancing by four weeks a paving and widening project on State Road 951 in southern Collier County.
  • Moving up one week the 23rd Street Flyover project at the intersection of U.S. 98 and 23rd Street in Bay County.

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