“Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride” Bette Davis
2017 promises to be an active year for citizen involvement in Fort Lauderdale.
Many Fort Lauderdale voters will recall that last year at this time, a group of city residents were collecting petitions asking for a moratorium pending an infrastructure and traffic analysis and plan. Their petition requested the City Commission appoint “a committee of citizens to meet with and advise city staff on these important issues.” Recently, on April 17th, the Infrastructure Task Force met for the first time.
Besides the formation of a Task Force, what else did this group of citizens request?
A comprehensive, transparent, and publicly accessible plan that:
- Includes a specific inventory of needed improvements.
- Coordinates the infrastructure and roads City-Wide.
- Prioritizes the projects.
- Establishes a timetable outlining when projects will begin and end.
- Includes the cost.
- Details a plan to finance the cost.
Fort Lauderdale’s City Manager wrote in March 2016 “The City of Fort Lauderdale was incorporated almost 105 years ago. The resiliency and integrity of this aged infrastructure is paramount because it affects the level of services provided to our neighbors and 300,000 visitors annually… there are great concerns about the pipeline network because the majority of it lies in ground water. This is worsened by sea level rise, coastal flooding, king tides, and salt water intrusion which all brings salty water in contact with various pipe materials causing severe corrosion of metal pipes and concrete pipes alike. ”
The City Manager had cause to be concerned. Almost 60% of City pipes are over 40 years old. A City power point showed there were almost as many breaks in the first five months of 2016 as in the whole of 2013. And that’s not all. Thirty sewage spills in three years have dumped millions of gallons of raw sewage into neighborhoods and waterways. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has demanded the City come up with a plan.
But the infrastructure concerns don’t stop there. Here are a few more:
- Storm water has an estimated $1 Billion of unfunded critical needs. Some of the challenges:
- High groundwater table
- Low-lying residential streets
- Sea level rise
- Low and deteriorating sea walls
- Aging infrastructure
- Absence of storm water infrastructure
- Lack of green space
- Emergency Response Times: At 8 minutes 9 seconds, the City far exceeds the target of 6 minutes for emergency response time. Last year, over 50,000 incidents required an emergency response. As the number of incidents increases so does the time it takes to respond. In 2004 the voters of our City supported a 40 million dollar Fire Bond initiative. 10 stations were supposed to be built in 10 years. 3 stations have still not been built.
- Fort Lauderdale’s Public Safety building is the oldest in the county and in desperate need of repair.
- Sidewalks: In January 2016, the Budget Advisory Board received a handout that listed the 20 year need for sidewalks. The document identified the cost of replacement sidewalks at $11 million, the cost of new sidewalks at $159 million and the cost of maintaining sidewalks at $216.5 million for a total of $386.5 million. Spread over 20 years, that is over $19 million dollars a year! What is funded this year? 2 million dollars.
- Traffic: We know how bad it is but will it get better? City documents reveal that over the next 20 years the City plans to spend $76 million on Lane/Road Diets/Eliminations. And what about the “multi-modal” transportation the City likes to talk about? In the past two years the Fort Lauderdale Beach link of the Sun Trolley has declined by 37%, the Las Olas Link has declined 22% and the total City-wide ridership for Sun Trolley Ridership has declined by 29%.
Meanwhile, our roads are more congested, and we spend more time sitting in traffic. National experts have put a cost on the time spent sitting in cars of $1000 per driver per year.
These are just a few of the many infrastructure challenges facing our City. To add to the frustration of the average citizen, over $152 million dollars specifically collected to address water, sewer, parking and storm water have been taken out of the water, sewer, parking and storm water funds and transferred into the General Fund since 2008. The City considers the $152 million dollars to be a dividend, a return on investment. Why has this money not been used to fix our broken water and sewer pipes?
Does the City have a plan? Yes, they have “lots of master plans” – with lots of unfunded infrastructure needs. The task for Fort Lauderdale’s new Infrastructure Task Force will be to create one comprehensive plan that prioritizes the needs, identifies a funding source and provides a timeline for fixing them. Will they do it, and if so will the City Commission act responsibly on it.
History teaches us to be skeptical. But here’s hoping for the best and thanks to the nine members of the Infrastructure Task Force – all local residents who have volunteered for this mammoth task.