Long-sought federal money is coming to complete a project that will raise a section of the Tamiami Trail to improve the flow of freshwater through the Everglades.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao advised state officials Monday that $60 million will be provided to the National Park Service for elevating a 6.5-mile section of the roadway that runs west from Miami.
“Combined with the $40 million I requested from the Florida Legislature, the project is now fully funded,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a tweet. “Elevating the Tamiami Trail will allow for an additional 75 to 80 billion gallons of water a day to flow south into the Everglades and Florida Bay.”
The state money is included in a $91.1 billion budget approved by the Legislature last month. The budget, which is for the fiscal year that starts July 1, has not formally been sent to DeSantis for approval.
The 91-year-old Tamiami Trail, or U.S. 41, crosses the Everglades and forms part of the northern border of Everglades National Park. Environmentalists say it has dammed the natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades to Florida Bay.
“The water crisis facing the Everglades is really two-fold,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said in a prepared statement. “At the northern end of the Everglades, excess water flowing into Lake Okeechobee has forced massive discharges of algae-causing water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. Meanwhile, in the southern Everglades, the lack of fresh water impacts wildlife and destroys critical habitat. In Florida Bay, it is ruining the delicate saltwater balance, killing seagrass habitat needed to support world-class recreational fishing in the Florida Keys.”
The Everglades Foundation said construction of two elevated bridges has helped the water flow, but the additional federal and state money will go toward raising a section of the roadway between the bridges and installing culverts.
The funding has been pushed by members of Florida’s congressional delegation and state officials.
“Without this critical funding to raise the road, recently authorized projects to the north, including the Central Everglades Planning Project and the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir would not be able to achieve their full restoration capabilities,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote Monday. “Everglades restoration is absolutely necessary to ensure the environmental sustainability and economic vitality of one of the most dynamic regions of our nation, and I will continue to work collaboratively across federal, state, and local government to address any roadblocks slowing down our progress.”
As governor in 2013, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., proposed $90 million in state funding to keep the federal elevation work on schedule.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida