Young and Thriving, North Port, Florida Seeks a Better Backbone

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This blog post is part of a series on rebuilding and reimagining America’s infrastructure for NLC’s Rebuild With Us campaign. 

The City of North Port is a young and thriving community in southwest Florida. It’s also one of Florida’s largest cities by area — covering over 105 square miles.

Incredibly, the city is only 30% developed right now, but that is likely to change. The North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton MSA, where North Port is located, was recently named the tenth fastest-growing metropolitan area in the United States. Additionally, the Atlanta Braves Spring Training facility is currently being built in North Port and will open by 2019.

One way residents can clearly see North Port growing is when they are driving “at turtle-speed” down the main thoroughfare of Price Boulevard. Price Boulevard is a heavily travelled road in the city that hasn’t been expanded as the city’s population increased, and it needs widening in some places. With future growth projections on the horizon, too, traffic won’t be getting any lighter.

However, while North Port was trying to get through the “red tape” of state and federal processes to get available funds to do the project, they hit the trifecta of infrastructure agony: The red tape created delays which made their permits lapse, so they had to restart the process — but by that point, costs had increased.

North Port’s leaders are happy to accept growth — but it’s what’s underground that may slow them down just as much as Price Boulevard. The city’s storm-water drainage system built under their city needs some serious work according to experts, including maintenance, rehabilitation and replacement.

The current infrastructure was installed 50 to 60 years ago and was constructed with corrugated metal drainage pipes and concrete pipes that are prone to deterioration over time, especially in Florida’s hot and humid climate. Most of the older pipes are now in need of replacement. There are two great reasons, the city says, to tackle the challenge now.

First, aging drainage systems create increased flooding potential for their residents’ homes and businesses. Second, when pipes fail, the storm-water drainage system is just not as efficient as it needs to be. Second, failing pipes could cause other infrastructure problems to roads and city property. From every way North Port sees it, this is a problem worth fixing now — but the city can only start one neighborhood at a time.

North Port developed a storm-water rehabilitation program that divides the city into grids. Each year a grid will be chosen for a complete infrastructure rebuild. This includes all aspects of the storm-water infrastructure, including the replacement of corrugated metal pipes with stronger, long-lasting concrete pipes. The projected budget of this program for the 2018/2019 fiscal year is $1.9 million, which is approximately 10% of the $19 million budget for the Operations Division. The city will continue this rebuild until all the infrastructure is renovated.

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“Public safety is the fundamental purpose of all levels of government and our nation’s infrastructure is an essential component toward fulfilling that obligation. Infrastructure encompasses networks of transportation, water, stormwater and communication systems which are all interconnected through over 19,000 cities across the U.S.A.,” said North Port Vice Mayor Linda Yates. “Safe and sustainable infrastructure networks cannot be achieved in isolation so it is critical, now more than ever, for Congress to invest in America’s economy, society, security and future by allocating adequate funding for all facets of municipal infrastructure projects.”

The Federal Government and the State can help local jurisdictions like North Port by streamlining the processes to receive federal and state funding that is available. Congress should also continue to fund and expand programs that provide funding directly for localities like North Port around the nation to expedite projects like these.

Congress could reauthorize and increase funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund programs and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which provide critical financial assistance to local projects for big rebuilds and help the city avoid expensive emergency repairs after breaks.

Additionally, Congress should support removing the federal volume cap on private activity bonds for water and wastewater infrastructure projects which will bring new financing capital into fixing our essential water infrastructure. Federal partnership on infrastructure projects like these can help a community like North Port patch their pipes and prepare for their growth — from their neighborhoods to their new ballpark.

Brittney2_readyAbout the Author: Brittney Kohler is NLC’s Program Director for Transportation and Infrastructure.