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Commissioners Prioritize Fort Lauderdale Goals, Fixing Infrastructure Remains One Of Top Issues

Fort Lauderdale City Commission
Caitie Switalski
Fort Lauderdale city commissioners rank their top priorities for the city 2021 budget.

Fort Lauderdale city commissioners met at the city's Women's Club downtown on Friday to dissect what initiatives worked last year, and where they should focus their efforts and city money for 2021. The exercise was part of the city's annual goal-setting workshop. 

One of six key areas the commission decided to focus on with urgency: fixing sewage and infrastructure. 

A section of the city's main sewer line that broke multiple times last month in the Rio Vista neighborhood broke again Thursday morning near George English Park. The stench could be smelled from the tennis center. Part of the most recent spill is flowing through the stormwater system into the Middle River. 

"We had another major break in our community and I think it's important that those who are participating in this undertaking today should understand that the commisison believes that infrastructure is a top priority, and that nothing else really stands in its way," Mayor Dean Trantalis told WLRN Friday.  

At the morning goal workshop, new Public Works Director, Raj Verma, joked, "I'm sorry it happened in my first week." Verma took over for Paul Berg, who retired last month.

The pipe is the city's main north-to-south sewage line. Earlier this month, the commission agreed to spend $65 million to entirely replace more than seven miles of the line, while also fixing the old line to create some redundancy in the system. Friday, Trantalis announced the plan is moving forward faster than any infrastructure project the city has undertaken before.

Read More: Sewage Spilling Into Middle River After Another Pipe Break In Fort Lauderdale

Overnight crews were able to dry out Bayview Drive, across the street from the Galleria Mall, and the city is on track to install a bypass line after midnight tonight. 

"What took almost a week in Rio Vista will take maybe 48 hours this time," Trantalis said of the fix. 

"We think that when we eventually get to dig up this pipe that we're going to find that the break occured in an area where both our stormwater system and our sewer system intersect," City Manager Chris Lagerbloom told reporters at a sewage press conference after the commisison's goals workshop ended. 

Those areas where systems intersect are called 'conflict boxes' and there are more in the sewage system. City officials wondered if they should consider getting rid of areas with intersecting underground pipes from different systems. 

Infrastructure has been on the city commission's priorities list before. It was listed in the top six goals at last year's workshop as well. 

"This really got ahead of us and so we're rearranging other priorities in order to make sure that we put almost everything we have into this issue," Trantalis said. 

Trantalis said the city will invest $600 million over the next five years to install new storm drains, tidal valvues, new sewer mains, pump stations, catch basins and other infrastructure projects.

Commissioners also listed five other areas to focus their time and the city's money on: homelessness and housing projects, traffic and transportation, resiliency, waterway quality, and the Downtown Master Plan--that's a series of guidelines for new development. 

They asked city staff for more reports on where money for housing people experiencing homelessness is going. They also made clear they want to explore traffic projects like reversible lanes.  

These six areas of focus for 2021 can, to some extent, begin before then. What won't impact the already-set budget can begin immediately. Whatever can't be funded this year will be considered for next year's budget.