Transportation problems threaten to stall economy, Bush says
By Susan Stabley
Transportation problems threaten to choke South Florida, warned leaders from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties last week at a regional summit.
Gov. Jeb Bush, keynote speaker at South Florida Economic Summit 2004, cited congestion as a top issue that required collaboration from the three counties.
"There is so much to do," Gov. Bush said, adding that high-speed rail transportation wouldn't help.
He said commute time exacerbated by standstill traffic damages the quality of life of more than 5 million South Florida residents.
The area's traffic congestion is a weakness exploited by Georgia Gov. Sonny Purdue as he touts Atlanta for a hemispheric trade headquarters and promotes the Port of Savannah as a better alternative for international shippers than Port of Miami, he said.
Time is stolen from the lives of drivers and money is lost to area businesses because of traffic snarls, especially on north-south corridors such as Interstate 95 and Florida's Turnpike, Gov. Bush said.
Transportation problems were a recurring theme of other speakers. Kevin Audin, chairman of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, stressed the importance of the Regional Transportation Authority, which has targeted $7 billion in projects over the next 20 years.
A focus on regionalism is particularly significant since the US Office of Management and Budget has deemed the tri-county area a "metropolitan statistical area." The region is considered the sixth largest in the US and the distinction could open the opportunity for increased federal funding, especially in transportation.
The lines that divide the three counties, Broward County Mayor Ilene Lieberman told attendees last week, matter to mapmakers and elected officials. But most commuters, who work in one county and live in another, understand that the area is one interconnected region, she said.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas' lashed out at the Legislature during his speech for severely cutting funding for the region's schools. He said Miami-Dade would receive $13 million less this year than last under the state's recently passed budget.
Gov. Bush linked growth management with transportation and education as problem areas. He pressed for reforms in permitting and said proper planning must happen now.
The event - the first of its kind in any South Florida politician's memory - was conceived by the heads of the three counties' economic development councils - Frank Nero of Miami-Dade's Beacon Council, James "JT" Tarleton of the Broward Alliance and Larry Pelton of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. More than 1,000 attended the June 3 luncheon at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood.
All three will go to San Francisco for a four-day biotech conference that is to start Sunday, Bio 2004, where they will promote the region together. The three economic development groups are planning a shared marketing initiative.
"A win for one has to be a win for all," Mr. Nero said. He said attracting business across county borders with tax breaks that pulls money away from government services "makes no sense."
Instead, the three must work together to prevent losing industry to other areas of the country or the state, he said.
The efforts are a far cry from when the three groups feuded over incentives to recruit companies across county lines. Mr. Nero and Mr. Tarlton said those days have ended. Mr. Tarlton said that if a company in Miami called inquiring about a move to his county, his next call would be to Mr. Nero.