Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lee MPO takes action on Friday on path to improve transportation & land use planning

The MPO Board took action on several items at Friday's meeting that lay the groundwork for improving the 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) next year.  First, as discussed in the January MPO Board meeting,  BikeWalkLee’s representative, Darla Letourneau spoke in support of proposed amendments to five roadway projects in the LRTP that were the result of the county’s implementation of complete streets.  These five roadways were slated for widening from two to four lanes but will now be reduced to a two lane divided roadway with median and turn lanes.

Letourneau stated that this proposed change in plans (approved by the Board on Friday) will result in roadways that take into account the needs of all users, improve safety, enhance the livability of the surrounding communities, and at the same time save the county and its taxpayer’s money. According to a preliminary estimate by MPO staff, this change in these five road projects will reduce the cost of these projects by $58.5 million.

This new way of thinking has the potential for saving taxpayers even more funds.  Letourneau cited the recent Nashville, TN MPO's long range plan that combined major land use and transportation changes to stop the sprawl in that area.  As a result, their plan reduced the requirement for road construction from $7 billion to $3.4 billion--a 50% reduction!  Click here to read more about the Nashville Plan.

Taking a holistic approach to transportation & land use planning is key to long term economic development, livability, and sustainability. It’s also about improving our existing roadways before expanding capacity. We are realizing that there are many other ways to address “congestion” than to add new lanes.

At Friday's meeting the Board also approved the staff's plan to run land use scenarios ahead of the next major update of the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). (Also discussed at December meeting.) BikeWalkLee is a strong supporter of scenario analysis of options to better inform decision-making on transportation planning.  Doing land use scenarios now, while Lee County and local jurisdictions are in various stages of considering land use changes, can assist all the players in finalizing their plans by showing how various land use options can affect transportation goals and plans.

Letourneau pointed out there's another reason why the county needs to do transportation and land use planning differently--the implications of generational dynamics for local planning.  She recommended that they ask Dan Rudge, LeeTran's planner, to present his excellent "Generational Dynamics" presentation to  both the Board and the MPO committees at an upcoming meeting.

A third topic was discussed--a state level proposal to study the feasibility of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) revenue-generation program.  Ann Pierce made comments on behalf of BikeWalkLee, pointing out that the real issue is the need to find a way to fund transportation, in light of declining gas tax revenues that are depleting the Highway Trust Fund.  We are concerned that our elected members of Congress seem unable or willing to do the difficult work of developing a viable and funded transportation bill.  Pierce suggested that there were effective uses for VMT without privacy intrusions, and cited the Alachua County approach of using a Mobility Plan and mobility fee that uses VMT data to effectively integrate land use with transportation in a holistic manner, generating revenue and directing future patterns of growth.

The Board voted against the draft resolution that would have opposed including any VMT option in the state study.  Rather, MPO staff was asked to communicate the Board's concerns about making sure that privacy issues were taken into account in designing any potential use of VMT.

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