Dade pares down stimulus project list by half, but cost of requests quadruples
By Risa Polansky
The 400-plus item list of potential economic stimulus projects Miami-Dade County whipped up late last year has been nearly halved to 215 requests.
But the cost of the projects — hopefuls for federal funding — has more than quadrupled, from about $1.5 billion to $7.2 billion.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez was to send a letter to Washington lawmakers this week highlighting high-priority county projects that could merit federal dollars under an expected Obama administration infrastructure and public works stimulus program.
Attached to the letter is an 11-page list of ready-to-go projects that could use a funding boost.
When asked by the United States Conference of Mayors to submit a list to include in the organization's Main Street Economic Recovery Initiative, the county's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs reached out to county departments to identify shovel-ready projects countywide, compiled the responses, and sent the 410-item package on.
"They were never meant to be an official list of any kind — it was just a survey," said Joe I. Rasco, intergovernmental affairs director. "We forwarded them, we didn't do the list… it came from the different departments."
Because the guidelines of the anticipated New Deal-esque program have yet to be defined, it's difficult to know what the White House and Congress will be looking for, he said.
But with Mr. Obama's inauguration coming up next week, the county is working now to pear down and polish its list, Mr. Rasco said.
"We will continue to have to refine that list and refine our strategy as we have more information."
Mayor Alvarez's list and letter is the first revised version.
Gone are most of the items on the original "survey" that listed zero jobs or left the jobs field blank.
Also taken care of: the duplications on the list submitted to the mayors' organization.
The revised list comes after commission Chairman Dennis Moss last week called for a strategic, targeted package of county and municipal priority projects.
Mr. Moss called the mayor's letter and list "a good start."
"Right now, we don't know exactly how the [stimulus] process is going to shake out, and so we need to get something in, so the mayor rightfully moved forward with a package," he said. "Right now, I think everybody is throwing the kitchen sink at it, but at the end of the day, there is going to be a process" making clear what types of projects the federal government is looking for.
"… We're going to be more targeted," Mr. Moss said.
Intergovernmental Affairs Director Rasco said a targeted approach is the way to go to shop the county's projects to lawmakers.
"The chair and the mayor's strategy, I think, is obviously the correct one at this point," he said.
In his letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leaders John Boehner of the House and Mitch McConnell of the Senate, Mayor Alvarez highlights several top priorities from the accompanying 11-page list, including building a tunnel to the Port of Miami, adding three Metrorail lines, dredging a channel to the Port of Miami to make way for the world's largest cargo ships, building a facility to house the county's emergency management functions and traffic signal control operations, and completing more than $100 million in public works projects such as roadway and drainage repairs.
Mr. Alvarez separates the requests into categories: infrastructure and economic development, energy/environmental-related initiatives, and public safety/public works projects.
All told, the 215 projects would create 10,962 jobs, the list says.
The first county "survey" included projects that would generate 23,120 jobs, but the list also duplicated projects.
In his letter this week, Mr. Alvarez asks members of Congress to consider $6.8 billion in projects, but the list itself totals $7.2 billion.
Many of the projects listed would create a handful of jobs each.
Ten would generate 300 or more.
An infrastructure project to widen and realign Central Boulevard at Miami International Airport would create 700 jobs, the list says.
It would cost $97 million.
Potential contingency costs for the $1 billion-plus seaport tunnel project — for which has state and local money lined up but "would benefit tremendously from federal support" in light of troubled financial markets, Mr. Alvarez said — received a $43.5 million request on the list but would create no jobs.
Many of the suggested projects are for the air and seaports.
"Federal dollars infused directly into countywide projects, including those that support our powerful economic engines, the airport and seaport, provide the greatest opportunity to boost South Florida's economy," Mr. Alvarez wrote. "A number of these projects have both local and regional significance vital to the area's growth as a center for trade and commerce; and support our most important industry, tourism."
Mayor Alvarez asks also that Congress include other economic stimulus measures in its anticipated legislation, including an increase to the federal match for health programs, a small-business assistance program and a job-training program to prepare residents for positions generated through the stimulus projects.
He closes by assuring lawmakers "we will continue working with our Board of County Commissioners over the next several weeks to further prioritize our needs and refine the list once the formal federal guidelines and processes are established by the new administration."
Commission Chair Moss called that the key.
"I think really the operative statement is at the end" of the mayor's letter, he said.
He still intends to collaborate with municipalities to make sure the list is a joint effort that truly reflects local needs.
As the stimulus plan out of Washington begins to unfold, "the process is going to really dictate what we finally have in the hopper at the end of the day in terms of what our requests are going to be," Mr. Moss said. "We'll be refining the list as we move forward."