Gov. Rick Scott on Monday celebrated the soon-to-open, $915 million PortMiami tunnel.
And when the new state budget arrives on his desk, Scott will get to decide on spending $139 million more over the next year to continue the rush to upgrade Florida's seaports.
The port funding -- tied to expanding global trade and attracting the larger cargo ships expected to traverse a widened Panama Canal -- has been packaged at more than $117 million for the fourth consecutive year.
The proposed funding would go to about 20 port projects, including $15 million for a gantry crane at Port Tampa Bay; $9.75 million for a new cruise terminal at Port Canaveral; and $2.6 million for a revamp of Port of Jacksonville's Blount Island marine terminal.
In a prepared statement following the tunnel ceremony, Scott said "investing in our ports is key to our success" in creating jobs.
However, his office wasn't ready Monday to say that any of the proposed port funding approved by lawmakers this spring is safe from the veto pen. Legislative leaders have not yet sent the proposed 2014-15 budget to Scott for his signature and vetoes.
"Governor Scott has made investments in Floridas ports a top priority for growing jobs for Florida families -- and looks forward to reviewing the budget once it reaches his desk," John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said in an email.
Using the scheduled 2015 completion of the Panama Canal work as a catalyst, Florida has been in a race against other east coast states to deepen harbors and improve dockside facilities, with seaport funding jumping from $8 million in 2008 to $117 million in 2011, reaching nearly $288 million in the current year.
Florida Ports Council spokeswoman Jennifer Davis called the money "another critical step in making Floridas infrastructure competitive in the global marketplace."
"The fact is that our geography and built-in consumer market are unique assets that are attractive to global business leaders," Davis said in an email Monday. "However, building the transportation infrastructure they need is the final piece that will make Florida a global hub for commerce."
During media interviews Monday morning, the governor continued to highlight the need to improve the state's seaports and transportation infrastructure.
"It's going to put us on the map," Scott said of the PortMiami work during an appearance on WFOR in Miami. "We'll be dredged to 50 feet, the only port south of Virginia. But the most important thing, it will create more jobs."
The state- and locally-funded tunnel, which could open to the public by the end of the month, is designed to speed trucks and passenger vehicles on an alternative bay crossing between the port and the MacArthur Causeway, providing a direct connection to Miami International Airport and Interstate 95.
Scott said the tunnel and an ongoing $220 million dredging to deepen the channel and harbor from 42-feet to 52-feet, will bring an additional 33,000 jobs and $34 billion annual impact from the port.
Hopeful of an eventual federal repayment, Scott directed $77 million from the Florida Department of Transportation's work plan to the dredging in 2011, with the state's contribution eventually growing to $112.5 million. Miami-Dade County covered the rest of the work.
Scott also used the tunnel opening to repeatedly criticize his potential Democratic gubernatorial challenger, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.
"This is something that Jeb Bush pushed, it had a big priority; Charlie Crist didn't, so it slowed down and we lost some jobs," Scott said on WFOR. "But we're back on track."
Similar comments were repeated in other interviews.
The project actually has been on the board for more than 30 years, getting approved to proceed in October 2009, a little more than two years before the massive tunnel work began.
Crist responded in a tweet Monday, "Glad to see the completion of the Port of Miami Tunnel -- proud my admin. was able to help take it from drawing board to construction!"
However, improving the ports across Florida has grown in importance since Scott took office, with the Florida Chamber of Commerce's 2010 report, Florida Trade and Logistics Study, serving as the blueprint for the governor and state lawmakers.
The report declared the state has a once in a generation opportunity to add 143,000 port-related jobs while boosting port business by $21.5 billion and tax revenue by $723 million a year.
The recently completed follow-up, "Florida: Made for Trade (Floridas Trade & Logistics Study 2.0)," continued the emphasis on moving goods through Florida, via ship, trucks, rail and air, along with a need to increase Florida's manufacturing.
"We believe we can create 150,000 new high-paying jobs over the next five years by simply doubling our exports from Florida," Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, told the state Cabinet last week. "That's the rallying cry of why we're doing what we're doing."