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Florida's Next Governor Faces Tough Transportation Challenge

I 4 Traffic. Photo: Catherine Welch
The I-4 Ultimate plans to reduce the current traffic on the interstate. Photo: Catherine Welch

In its most recent report, the American Society of Civil Engineers calls Florida's transportation system 'mediocre', noting that only 2 percent of Floridians commute using public transportation.

And whoever becomes the state's next governor will inherit a system bogged down by crowded roads and a lack of mass transit options.

Investing more money in mass transportation is a rallying cry for Democratic candidates for governor.

Just hear former Tallahassee congresswoman Gwen Graham speaking to Democratic donors at a fundraising event in Tampa.

"Our roads have turned into parking lots. We have got to start investing in mobility, in allowing people to get into mass transit opportunities and move from one place to the other," said Graham.

But despite the passion, none of the Democratic candidates have really provided any specifics on what they'd do to relieve congestion on Florida roads.

The candidates have mentioned in passing a bunch of different transit options like high speed rail, busses and bike lanes.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has even suggested the state look in to Hyperloop - a system of pods traveling in sealed tubes that's being developed by tech tycoon Elon Musk. Right now it only exists in theory.

Levine says public transportation is the only way to attract what he calls twenty first century businesses.

"Look at the HR manuals of Apple, Ebay, Amazon, Lockheed, Boeing, all these great companies we want to come to Florida,' said Levine.

"They're all the same. They are pro-education, pro-health care, anti-discrimination, they're pro-environment, and if they're going to come, they want public transportation wherever they're going to come."

South Florida billionaire Jeff Greene and Orlando businessman Chris King have both voiced their support for partnering with the private company Brightline, which is trying to build a high-speed rail system between Miami, Orlando and Tampa. King has raised concerns about the project's trial run in South Florida. The trains have killed six people and critics say the system could damage the environment. pause

Talking about Florida's transportation problems gives Democrats a platform to attack Governor Rick Scott. In 2011 he turned down federal funds for high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum did just that on when talking to Jacksonville's WJCT.

"We had an opportunity during the Obama administration to pull down $1.3 billion to help build high speed rail across the I-4 corridor - the fastest growing corridor in this state," said Gillum.

"We've got to lean into the future of transportation in this state. Asphalt will not build us out of gridlock."

Actually Gillum underestimated the amount Scott turned down. It was more than $2 billion.

On the Republican side of the race, more asphalt is exactly what candidates are calling for.

Speaking to a room full of civic Tampa, two-term Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said he supports how lawmakers are looking to add even more roads.

"The legislature moved forward this year with looking at new corridors for our interstate highway system," said Putnam.

"We have not substantially expanded the interstate system since our population was about half of what it is today."

Congressman Ron DeSantis of Port Orange is the favorite of President Donald Trump.

He told WTSP-TV in Tampa that he's skeptical of state investment in mass transit.

"I don't think that doing like a train is going to be the answer to it," said DeSantis.

"I think we are basically an automobile-centric society/ until that behavior changes."

But just like all five Deomcratic candidates, neither one of the Republicans have shared a specific plan for fixing the state's gridlock.

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