The $5 million cost of keeping the current Flagler Memorial Bridge open while a new one is built is a wake-up call to keep up with transportation maintenance, Ananth Prasad, the state’s Secretary of Transportation, said Wednesday.
“That little bridge shows the importance of maintaining our transportation infrastructure to attract business to our state,” Prasad said at a breakfast sponsored by the Northern Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce.
Shoring up the 86-year-old span will take about six months. The work on the current bridge means the new one, expected to cost about $94 million, isn’t likely to open until 2016, Prasad said.
Building and maintaining connections between highways, airports, seaports and railways must be improved if Florida is to compete with other states and countries in trade, said Prasad before the crowd of about 200 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel on PGA Boulevard.
“We take our transportation system for granted. But it is the basic fabric of our community and generates the revenue we need to bring tourists, fund education and create more jobs,” said Prasad, whose agency has a $7 billion annual budget.
Changes to the way gasoline taxes now pay for transportation must be considered, Prasad said. As vehicles go farther on a tank of gas, state and local officials will receive less revenue from motorists to repair roads and build new ones. Palm Beach County residents pay a 6-cents-per-gallon tax at the pump.
One option could be eliminating the per-gallon gasoline tax and change to a per-mile fee, said Prasad in an interview following his speech.
“There are many options to consider,” he said. “The overall goal is to keep up with the infrastructure so we have the money to maintain and repair projects like that little bridge.”