Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Plan Would Create Jobs for Area $60 Million Would Accelerate Projects

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Plan Would Create Jobs for Area $60 Million Would Accelerate Projects

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Saunders, Times-Union staff writer

TALLAHASSEE -- When lawmakers gather next week to grapple with Florida's economic woes, they could consider a public-works plan that would pump nearly $60 million into the Jacksonville area to help create jobs.

The plan, a $928 million statewide effort by Gov. Jeb Bush, would speed up taxpayer spending on road construction and school building projects. It includes spending $32.8 million to widen Interstate 95 in southern St. Johns County and $5.2 million to finish a high-tech training center at Florida Community College at Jacksonville.

Steve Hall, executive vice president of Associated General Contractors of Greater Florida, said Bush's plan will help contractors who face uncertainty during the coming months. Construction companies have not been forced into widespread layoffs that have hit other industries such as airlines and tourism.

"I think people are concerned about the economy right now and the construction that's going to be on the market in 2002," said Hall, who is based in Jacksonville. "I think they're already starting to see a slowdown in 2001."

Nevertheless, the amount of money in the plan would be relatively small compared to overall state and local spending on building projects.

For example, the plan calls for sending about $4.3 million to the Duval County school district for renovation projects. Meanwhile, the district is spending about $47 million this year to build three elementary schools and a middle school.

Bush's plan, released Friday, would shift tax dollars and borrow money during the current year to build roads and help pay for construction projects at schools, community colleges and universities. The plan comes as the state reels from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that worsened an already-struggling economy.

Northeast Florida would receive about $59.6 million in the plan. Each school district in the region would get money for renovations, as would the University of North Florida, which would receive about $8 million for road improvements and a project to replace underground pipes that are used in heating and cooling the campus.

Elizabeth Hirst, a Bush spokeswoman, said the governor hopes lawmakers will take up the plan when they start a special session next week to deal with a $1. …

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