State Of Florida Pledges $90 Million To Help Fund A Bridge To Somewhere In Everglades National Park

Work on the first mile of bridge underway in 2012. The bridge replaced a section of road seen to the right of the pilings. Photo by Aerial Photography, Inc. via Jaxstrong and Creative Commons.

In 1928 a highway known as the Tamiami Trail was built across the southern Florida peninsula, and while it was a boon for developers, the dam-like roadfill created serious problems for Everglades National Park. A partial solution—replacing some of the road's berm with bridges—got a welcome boost with a recent pledge of $90 million from the State of Florida.

On August 28th, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced the state's commitment of $30 million a year over three years to help replace a 2.6-mile section of existing highway berm with a bridge along the northern boundary of Everglades National Park. The state dollars are being offered as a match to a similar $90 million investment in federal dollars.

The total estimated cost—$180 million—is a sizeable chunk of money, but unlike some other highway projects derided as a "bridge to nowhere," this one would offer a solution to several closely-related problems.

Fresh Water Once Flowed Freely Across Southern Florida

In the late 1800s, the southern end of the Florida peninsula was largely undeveloped, and although the area was a rich and complex ecosystem, it was viewed by some as merely wasted "swampland." Fresh water—including sometimes copious amounts from tropical storms—flowed freely southward as a shallow, slow-moving sheet of water through the large but shallow Lake Okeechobee, and then onward through the Everglades to coastal estuaries and the sea.

The area's mild winter climate made it attractive for residential and agricultural development and tourism, but the problem was what to do about all that "swamp." The answer was decades of construction of an elaborate system of dikes, canals and pumping stations to drain wetlands and try to control flooding—not an easy task in this relatively flat terrain.

An East-West Highway was a Key to Development of South Florida

It was a classic example of "if you build it, they will come," and much of south Florida is now both a major agricultural empire and home to millions of people. A key missing link for that development in the early 1900s was a highway linking Miami on the state's east coast with Naples on the west.

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The Tamiami Trail as shown in a postcard from about 1940. Boston Public Library Photo.

The answer was a road known as the Tamiami Trail (now US 41), and to keep construction costs down, the primary technique was to simply bring in fill, build a very long berm, and lay a roadway on top.

The natural flow of freshwater southward through what's now Everglades National Park was interrupted, and the result was a host of unintended consequences to what the park website described as a delicately-balanced "mosaic of ponds, sloughs, sawgrass marshes, hardwood hammock, and forested uplands."

Everglades National Park Now Relies Upon "Engineered" Water

Everglades National Park is a relative newcomer to this story; the park was established in 1947 to conserve some of the remaining natural area, and includes about 1.5 million acres out of about 18,000 square miles in the original Everglades ecosystem. A short paragraph on a park map sums up the challenge: "Fresh water flowing into the park is engineered. With the help of pumps, floodgates, and retention ponds along the park's boundary, the Everglades is presently on life support, alive but diminished."

And that brings us back to the State of Florida's offer of $90 million to help replace 2.6 miles of that Tamiami Trail berm with a bridge. Ironically, impetus for the state's support for the project came from a summer with too much rain in southern Florida, and a press release from the Governor's office helps explain the problem.

"Today’s setup of the Tamiami Trail inhibits water flow, which forces more storm water runoff to drain from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, instead of flowing south through the Everglades. By constructing an additional bridge, more water will be able to flow naturally through the Everglades, which will keep nutrient rich water out of the estuaries."

Excess Water in Lake Okeechobee Causes Big Problems

Swollen by unusually heavy spring and summer rains, Lake Okeechobee is literally on the verge of bursting at the seams. In the 1930s, a 143-mile long earthen dike was constructed around the lake to regulate water levels, and the Army Corps of Engineers, fearing failure of the aging levee, has released tens of billions of gallons of fresh water from the lake into estuaries to the east and west.

The deluge of not-so-clean water has upset the delicate balance of salt and fresh water in the estuaries and fouled water quality in areas with important commercial crops of oysters and other shellfish. The water in some areas has become unsuitable for swimming, game fish are disappearing, and businesses that depend on tourism are hurting.

Those problems spurred the state's recent announcement of help for the Tamiami bridge project. According to Governor Scott, “This $90 million investment will be a huge step forward in our efforts to restore water quality throughout South Florida. Every drop of water that we can send south and keep out of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries is a win for Florida families."

Economic Losses from High Water Spur State Support for Bridge Project

A number of state politicians also expressed their support, including Representative Dane Eagle, who said, “The ultimate completion of the Tamiami Trail projects will be a game changer for water quality in South Florida. By Governor Scott taking steps forward in completing another major segment, Florida is becoming more proactive in its efforts to create a more sustainable environment for future generations. With this $90 million investment, we’re not only committing to restoring water quality, but we’re supporting Florida’s future economic strength.”

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Water is essential to the ecology of Everglades National Park. NPS photo.

The bridge work is only a small part of a much larger regional Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and the project would also be a win for the park, where the Governor's announcement was welcome news.

“One of the most critical components of the Everglades restoration is increasing water flow under Tamiami Trail into Everglades National Park,” said Superintendent Dan Kimball.

“This is a crucial step forward in the Everglades restoration, and we are very thankful to the governor for the commitment he demonstrated today to the Everglades restoration and to the key part it plays in Florida’s economy.”

Everglades Restoration Depends on Partnership

“Several significant advances have been made recently that demonstrate the protection of America’s Everglades remains a national and state priority,” said Park Superintendent Kimball, “and that the federal/state partnership necessary for our success is very active in moving forward together.”

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell also issued a statement praising the state's offer. “We welcome Governor Scott’s partnership with the Department in the construction of a 2.6- mile bridge on the Tamiami Trail, a critical next step in our collective efforts to restore the Everglades,” Jewell said.

“Bridging the Tamiami Trail is a key component of Everglades’ restoration plans to increase water flow through the central Everglades into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay," Jewell noted. "This will both help restore wildlife habitat in the Everglades and improve flood conditions in the Water Conservation Areas north of the trail."

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Everglades National Park. NPS photo by G. Gardner.

Proposed Bridge is Phase Two of the Project

The state money would help fund the second phase of an eventual 6.5 miles of bridging planned for the Tamiami Trail. The first step in the project was completed in February of this year, when the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed construction of the first mile of bridge on the Trail.

Congress authorized an additional 5.5 miles of bridges along the trail in 2011—but that vote did not provide the funding to do the work. The Department of the Interior is seeking $30 million in its 2014 budget to help begin the work—and provide the needed dollars to match the state's contribution—but that request will have to compete with many other projects in a time of tight federal dollars.

The State of Florida has stepped in to cut the federal cost of the next phase of the project in half. Now the question is whether this plan for a "bridge to somewhere" will go anywhere in a Congress distracted by partisan divisions over bigger budget issues.

Comments

Such a shame that folks like Governor Scott can't recognize the value in conservation of natural ecosystems until the negative results of poor planning impact someone's pocketbook. Then it's suddenly a disaster. The Everglades superintendant said, "[W]e are very thankful to the governor for the commitment he demonstrated today to the Everglades restoration..." The proper thing to say, but the actual restoration of the Everglades ecosystem is the last thing Scott has any interest in. Still, you take what you can get, even from the most hardened enemies of conservation, when the paths to your goals happen to overlap.


but the actual restoration of the Everglades ecosystem is the last thing Scott has any interest in.


Could you document that?

I don't try to keep up with Florida politics, so I can't address Kirby Adam's comment about Governor Scott's previous positions on Everglades restoration. This does seem to be a situation where high water from the very wet summer has highlighed significant economic advantages from this project for areas outside the park. That in turn has attracted a lot more support for the bridge(s) from a broader political base at the state and local level.

For those who like to focus on the cost-benefit ratio, the wet weather has definitely changed those numbers in favor of this project.

Thanks for the update, Jim. This would seem to be a very important moment in the history of the parks. Scott's reversal on this is certainly welcome news.


Scott's reversal on this is certainly welcome news.


Reversal? Was he against this at some point?

If by "this," you're referring to state funding for the project, yes.

Could you document where he opposed it?

Yes. But so can Google news. Go for it!

I figured not.


• 55 percent are opposed to Gov. Rick Scott's cut to Everglades restoration, including 37 percent who say they are "strongly opposed." Forty percent favor the cut. Scott proposal would cut Everglades restoration 66 percent, from $50 million to $17 million.


http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/content/poll-voters-dont-scotts-proposed-cut-everglades-funding

Scott was not opposed to funding it was the level, timing and source that was the issue. Given he was lauded for his efforts to obtain funding less within 9 months of becoming Governor, two years ago, he certainly couldn't be seen as a strong opponent.

[= 13.5pt; font-family: 'Century Gothic','sans-serif'; mso-fareast-font-family: 'Times New Roman'; mso-bidi-font-family: 'Times New Roman'; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA]http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-112hhrg71117/html/CHRG-112hhrg71117.htm[/]

And earlier this year he signed on to an $880 million restoration project.

http://www.flgov.com/2013/05/28/governor-scott-celebrates-880-million-plan-for-everglades-restoration-cleaner-water-in-florida/

{edit} And I can find no evidence nor has anyone provided any that suggests that Scott was ever opposed to this bridge project.



Yes. But so can Google news. Go for it!

Great answer, justinh!

A frequent contributor to this site loves to stir the pot by challenging other posters to "document" their statements, but whose "responsibility to cite" is in play here? If a reader disagrees with the accuracy of information in a comment or a story, it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask him to offer a reputable source to refute the item in question.

All comments purporting to offer factual information (vs. opinions) should be truthful and based on credible sources, but we aren't, after all, writing footnoted term papers when we post a comment. If the subject at hand is really important to the challenger, he should be interested enough to document his objections. Otherwise, the motive seems to be a desire to debate rather than ensure the accuracy of the discussion.

Gee Mtnliving - where I come from, people are expected to document their accusations. I guess you live in the world where people are guilty until proven innocent.

The question is who is making the "accusation." It seems you enjoy accusing others of being incorrect, but are unwilling to take the time to prove otherwise.

EC, given that the governor wanted to cut funding by 66 percent, it certainly would seem he opposed the project to a certain degree; it can be debated whether that reflects "strong" opposition or not.

More so, it is interesting that just eight months after that poll came out, the governor reversed direction and claimed restoration was his top priority. Did Florida's economic outlook change that dramatically in eight months, or did the polling change the governor's outlook?

http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2011/11/governing-by-poll-rick-scott-now-says-everglades-restoration-a-top-priority.html


It seems you enjoy accusing others of being incorrect,


I didn't accuse him of anything. I was not aware this was a reversal of a position and asked him to document it.

Irrespective of previous positions, the support of the governor and a number of other state politicans for this project is good news for the Everglades and all of those private property owners impacted by the high water.

That welcome support does beg a couple of other questions: Since the state money is apparently in the form of matching funds for federal dollars, what happens if Congress fails to provide the federal share in a timely manner? If lack of federal support puts this project on hold for a couple of years or longer, and a dry spell in Florida causes high water to disappear, will state support also evaporate? Both politicians and voters seem to have short memories.

The true level of commitment by politicians at all levels for this project, and for Everglades restoration in general, will be known several years down the road.


eight months after that poll came out, the governor reversed direction and claimed restoration was his top priority.


So supporting this particuarly project two years later could hardly be called a reversal.

Kurt asked a very interesting question which was ignored and dodged.

"More so, it is interesting that just eight months after that poll came out, the governor reversed direction and claimed restoration was his top priority. Did Florida's economic outlook change that dramatically in eight months, or did the polling change the governor's outlook?"

ec, we are anxiously awaiting your documented answer to Kurt's query.

Lee - I wouldn't presume to know why the governor takes specific actions. Perhaps you should ask him.

And by the way he said it was "a" top priority not "the" and I don't know that that is any different than his previous stance. Just because you are unwilling to spend unlimited amounts of money doesn't mean you don't support a project or view it as a priority.

[edit] And BTW - HB 7065 put the spending at $32 million per year. Not as low as the $17 million he initially proposed but certainly consistent with his desire to cut overall spending in the state of Florida. So in reality his statement in 2011 was not a reversal of direction.

And yes the finances are better now. In 2010-11 the revenue was $22.2 billion in 2014-15 is projected at over $27 billion.

Still waiting for an answer.

Dodge #1. (Or does the edit count as another?)


Still waiting for an answer.


I gave you an answer. I would not be so presumptious as to claim to know why Scott makes the decisions he makes.

Still dodging. #3. How many times in the past have you presumed to know what other commentors here are thinking?

But let's get back to the subject at hand -- namely the idea that Florida may finally get aboard with helping save the Everglades.

Let's stay focused on the issue at hand, folks, not individual perspectives, please.

I always thought the saying" Beating a dead horse" was kind of a humorous antedote....

I have Video Evidence of Taxpayer Dollars Wasted on the Everglades Bridging.

We have been lied to and led to believe that the new 1 mile bridge is working, but we have video evidence that it is not working. The 2.6 mile bridge is next to be built before even testing the new 1 mile bridge. This bridge will be a huge disaster. The negative effects the new proposed 2.6 mile bridge will be irreversible. We the people have the power to stop the corruption, and irresponsible decisions that are being made behind our backs. We will show you the truth about how taxpayers are about to lose billions of dollars, and how wildlife will pay with their lives.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16fxd6arpxo

Please watch, share, and repost the video in your blogs, news feed, social pages, and etc.

miamiglademan, I did watch the video, I probably know so little about the issue, I should say, well, not much, except I have driven the highway, seen the canal and was told by friends working in the Everglades it was affecting the park ecosystem along with urban sprawl and ag issues. I had a little trouble understanding the video, but thank you posting. I do give much credence to the Everglades Supt. and others in the article that state this is a positive step. Politically, I am no fan of Governnor Scott, but I think his support of this effort is a step in the right direction.