Wednesday, September 5, 2012

BikeWalkLee comments & BoCC action on Lehigh complete streets projects at budget hearing

As Lee County puts the finishing touches on its 2013 budget, they are holding public hearings.  At the Sept. 5th public hearing, a focus was on several complete streets projects, including BikeWalkLee's comments and an extensive conversation about several Lehigh Acres proposed complete streets projects.  Final action on the 2013 budget will occur after the Sept. 19th public hearing.

Dr. Margaret Banyan spoke on behalf of BikeWalkLee at the public hearing and made the following comments:

Budgets are a statement of the community's priorities and it is important that our elected officials make decisions that reflect the community's values. The budget needs to be developed in a rational and thoughtful way, with a focus on the long term consequences of today's budget decisions.   It is critical that these decisions reflect the quality of life investments that are vital to the sustainability and economic viability of our community.

For the past five years,  the county's budget has been tightened, staffing has been reduced, staff haven't received raises, services have been cut back and whatever fat was there, has been cut.  The BoCC has chosen not to raise property taxes, preferring the balance the budget by taking from reserves.  BikeWalkLee acknowledges that at some point the Board will have to raise additional revenues and we will support that effort in order to maintain the quality of life for our residents and visitors.  Our long term economic viability depends on maintaining and enhancing the quality of life that attracts and retains our residents.

BikeWalkLee wants to highlight several budget suggestions for your consideration:
 We support the LeeTran budget of $10.4 million, which is flat funding.  We urge you not to reduce that level.  We need the Board to develop a way to expand transit to meet the long terms needs of our community.

In June we presented a memo with recommendations on the proposed CIP budget for your consideration.   On Alico Rd/Ben Hill widening project we asked that you make sure that it is developed concurrent and consistent with  a master plan to be developed for the Research Diamond area.  We asked that the Fiddlesticks Rd. shared use path project be moved up a year, to start in2013.  We also support complete streets projects, including the two Lehigh Acres mixed use centers with complete streets features that are being proposed by the Lehigh community.  Finally, we ask that you take into account the upcoming recommendations from the Palm Beach Community Panel about making a portion of Ortiz Blvd in the Tice community a complete street.

Lehigh Acres Complete Streets Projects

The focus of the public comments, with seven citizens from Lehigh Acres speaking, was in support of the two complete streets projects, with a $557,000 price tag, proposed by Lehigh Acres.  These projects were not included in the county's draft budget but were presented to the Board in a August memo for consideration.  Leaders from Lehigh spoke about the year long process of developing these 2 projects in concert with Lee County staff as the next step of implementing the community's master plan.  The needed projects were described as an effort to create a "Main Street' on Homestead Road, making it a complete street, with beautification, taking out the "suicide lane", providing biking and walking facilities, and trees.  As stated by community leaders, the Lehigh community needs to see improvements on the ground now.  

The Board discussed the Lehigh projects at length.  In addition to the two planning projects described above, they discussed several Lehigh related road projects, including the $1 million for  landscaping the median of Homestead Road (between Lee Blvd. & Alabama) and design work for making downtown Homestead a complete street ($1.5 million for design and permitting phase).  The Board also discussed the planned roundabout at Beth Stacey that is ready for construction this year.  On that project, it was agreed that LeeDOT would come back to the Board with a "blue sheet" to get BoCC approval to move that funded roundabout project forward. The Board voted to move both the two planning  projects ($570 K) and the 2 road projects (approx. $2.5 million) forward to the 2nd budget hearing on Sept. 19th, at which time the staff will present to the Board where the offsets will come from to fund these projects and a final decision will be made.

The second and final FY 2013 public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Sept. 19th at 5:05 p.m. in the Commission Chambers.

Read the WINK-TV story and watch the video from Sept. 10th, "Making Homestead Road a 'complete street'.  Kudos to the Lehigh community for advocating for this vision and to the commissioners for listening!

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