County chasing stimulus dollars


Published: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:02 p.m.

A long list of roads, buildings, boardwalks and other facilities totaling $436 million will be sent to Washington by Alachua County commissioners, who hope to cash in on the economic stimulus package that will be coming after President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

First on the list is a request for $99.4 million to build an extension of SW 62nd Boulevard to provide a travel alternative in the busy area between the Oaks Mall and Butler Plaza.

"These are basically things we've already had planned," County Manager Randall Reid said. "We want to take advantage of the economic stimulus. It's potentially going to be over $1 trillion. The general theory is that they want projects that are relatively ready to go."

Obama and congressional Democrats plan to try to pass an economic stimulus package quickly after he takes office on Jan. 20. The focus is expected to be on public works projects such as roads and bridges, and on green energy projects such as expansion of solar and wind technologies.

Obama said the stimulus package will have no pork projects and that the process for selecting the projects for funding will be open and transparent.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, whose district includes part of Alachua County, is on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Brown said Wednesday that Alachua County will get money. She said she will want local officials to come to Washington to testify about their projects as part of the transparency effort.

"We are going to set up a system. Today I asked the Democratic caucus that we have hearings to bring people up to vet the projects. We want to expedite the process, but we also need transparency so that everybody will know. Each committee should do that," Brown said. "It's going to take time, but we want a finished product that we can all be proud of. Alachua County will be part of the equation."

Of the total $436 million in projects that commissioners are seeking, $213 million would be for road projects. Among them are the resurfacing of sections of several county roads, SW 122nd Street, Main Street, Wacahoota Road and Lakeshore Drive.

Another $128 million would be for economic development projects, such as the creation of a new fairgrounds and the redevelopment of the existing fairgrounds into a commerce center.

Constructing and renovating county buildings accounts for $55 million. Among them is the planned court support building that was supposed to be built with bond revenue but has been delayed because of the sinking economy. Other projects include a new energy-efficient heating and air-conditioning system at the jail and a Jonesville library.

Recreation projects total almost $31 million in the request. Many of the projects include boardwalks at area lakes, observation platforms at Alachua County Forever tracts, trailheads and similar amenities.

The county listed one green infrastructure project: an organics recycling facility with a solar roof. It would generate about $485,000 in revenue a year from the solar energy.

Brent Christensen, president of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, said some local business owners believe the economic stimulus effort will help while others are skeptical.

Christensen said political leaders such as Obama and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist - who is proposing his own state stimulus package - realize that stimulating the economy will need a multifaceted approach that involves public works projects, low-interest loans to business and other tactics.

"Even President-elect Obama is seeing that you have to try a lot of things. There is not just one thing that will get the economy turned around," Christensen said. "Some of these infrastructure projects will put people back to work. Then there is the other issue that capital markets are a bit frozen, which is what Gov. Crist is looking at. Businesses need working capital to expand and make investments and keep people on their employee role."

Contact Cindy Swirko at 374-5024 or at swirkoc@gvillesun.com.

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