IT WOULDN’T, OR SHOULDN’T, be a surprise to learn that, through the years, Tucker Paving, Inc., has done its fair share of roadwork for or in association with the Florida Department of Transportation. For a government agency, that’s a mouthful for a name, so most people refer to it as “F-D-O-T” or “F-DOT.” That helps to distinguish it from its federal counterpart, the U.S. Department of Transportation (‘D-O-T”).
If you’re into history — about anything and everything — you’ll find that FDOT has an interesting one. Having started out as the Florida State Road Department, FDOT celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015. The Florida Legislature created the State Road Department in 1915, and the State Road Board officially began operation on Oct. 8, 1915.
In more than a century’s time, a government agency can become quite a repository of facts and figures, much of it worth blogging about. What follows are a baker’s dozen worth of interesting items about FDOT and Florida transportation history.
- For the first two years of its existence, the State Road Department acted mostly as an advisory body to Florida’s then-52 counties. (Florida now has 67 counties.) The department also helped to assemble maps and other information about roads.
- The 1916 Bankhead Act passed by Congress expanded the Florida State Road Department’s responsibilities and gave it the authority to establish a state and state-aid system of roads; engage in road construction and maintenance; acquire and own land; exercise the right of eminent domain; and accept federal or local funds for use in improving roads.
- With more than a thousand miles of coastline, many scenic rivers and navigable waterways, and countless lakes, Florida historically has been a challenge to highway and bridge builders.
- Remnants of very narrow brick highway — more like a sidewalk — from the Old Spanish Trail still can be found and traversed today in Suwannee County in north Florida. Amazingly, the trail connected St. Augustine to San Diego, Calif.
- The Old King’s Road was Florida’s first highway, beginning from St. Augustine in about 1765 to eventually connect Colerain, Ga., on the St. Mary’s River, passing through the settlement of Cowford (Jacksonville), with the new settlement of New Smyrna on Florida’s east coast. The road was constructed by British engineers and followed trails established by Native Americans. The road had crushed Coquina shell as surface material.
- State gasoline taxes rose to 6 cents per gallon to help the road department maintain roads and pay off debt.
- Florida received federal dollars in the 1940s to help complete the 113-mile Overseas Highway that links the Florida Keys to the mainland. The highway initially opened to traffic in March 1938.
- The 1950s saw the construction of Florida’s Turnpike, once administered by the old Sunshine State Parkway Authority.
- The Henry E. Kinney Tunnel (the New River Tunnel) opened in Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 9, 1960, becoming the state’s first traffic tunnel. Another tunnel, the Port of Miami Tunnel, didn’t follow until 2014.
- The Florida Department of Transportation was created by the Legislature in 1969 and absorbed all the authority and responsibilities of the Florida State Road Department.
- Florida has 122,736 centerline miles of public roads. The State Highway System (SHS) encompasses 12,106 miles of centerline roads.
- With transportation extending well beyond roads, Florida also has 12,267 bridges (6,858 maintained by FDOT); 31 urban transit systems; 18 rural transit systems; 7,438 miles of bicycle facilities on non-highway SHS; 3,417 miles of pedestrian facilities on urban non-freeway SHS; 20 commercial airports; 15 seaports; two spaceports; and 2,743 miles of mainland railroad track.
- The FDOT is decentralized by legislative mandate and has seven districts, plus Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise. District 1/Southwest Florida, with a main office in nearby Bartow, represents Polk County and 11 other counties (nearly 12,000 square miles of land area).
- The FDOT mission statement: The department will provide a safe transportation system that ensures the mobility of people and goods, enhances economic prosperity, and preserves the quality of our environment and communities.