Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Take-aways from Nashville presentation at MPO Board meeting on 6/21/13

Lots of great "take-aways" from the June Lee MPO Board Nashville Peer Exchange presentation.  Note plans for August and September Peer Exchanges.

At the June 21st Lee MPO Board meeting, Board members, staff, and citizens had the opportunity to hear a presentation by Michael Skipper, the Executive Director the Nashville MPO, about the award-winning and visionary transportation plan developed by the Nashville area MPO in 2010.  This presentation was the first in a series of "Peer Exchanges" by the Lee MPO Board to learn from other communities' experiences as the MPO begins the process of developing its 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). 

Nashville was described by Mr. Skipper as the most sprawling community in the country, ranking at the bottom nationally on benchmarks such as commuting delay times, air quality issues, and obesity.  With a strong economic base and projected growth in population, the challenge facing its regional leaders was how to not become the next Atlanta.  They realized they had to stop doing what they were doing or wouldn't get where they wanted to go.  They realized they needed to pivot from bad investments to good investments.  To do this, they needed a strong regional collaborative effort to stop the sprawling development pattern and move in a new direction for the future.  By developing a transportation plan consistent with the objectives below, they were able to reduce the cost of their LRTP by about 50%.  

 The following were the objectives adopted by the Nashville MPO Board at were used in developing their 2035 LRTP:
·        Adopt a "fix-it-first" approach that emphasizes maintenance and improvement of existing facilities before building new ones.
·        Shift investment strategies toward a diversity of transportation modes, rather than focusing solely on roadway capacity.
·        Encourage the development of context-sensitive solutions "to ensure that community values are not sacrificed for a mobility improvement".
·        Increase efforts to improve transportation corridors so they contribute to a sense of place.
·        Invest in walkable communities that offer citizens the ability to access their needs without relying on cars.
·        Invest in a modern regional transit system.

To do this, their 2035 cost feasible plan was greatly downsized and right-sized.  They implemented in through a couple of mechanisms.  First, the existing projects on the previous LRTP were not assumed to move forward into the new plan.  The old plan was replaced by a new evaluation process, described as an evidence-driven process.  Each jurisdiction had to submit proposals for each project and how they met the goals and objectives (see above) adopted by the Board.  There was a detailed mechanism for scoring each of the proposals against the criteria.  Projects that didn't score well were dropped, including projects for which they'd already done PD and E plans and bought ROW.  Second, funds were taken off the top (approximately 30%) and set aside for mass transit, bike and ped, and ITS projects, with the remaining 70% going for roadway improvement projects.  Third, the sum of the cost feasible plan could not exceed the realistic estimates of revenues, so that the plan was  realistic.  Fourth, the MPO wasn't just involved in the approval of the projects but was involved in the scope of work for each project to ensure that it was designed in a way consistent with their objectives, and the locals were held accountable for achieving the results projected in their applications. Fifth, they focused on the life cycle cost of the project, not just the initial construction cost but its ongoing maintenance costs.  Finally, the MPO used its fund to leverage what the locals did with their own dollars.

There was an extensive discussion between the Board members and Mr. Skipper, with many questions focused on revenue sources and transit planning.  Fort Myers Councilman Mike Flanders summarized the key take-away from the presentation as the best way to spend taxpayers' dollars is to improve the roads we already have.  For example,  what else can the roads do besides move car traffic?  Flanders argued that to move forward on transit, we need a transit authority and the county needs to educate the citizens about the need to move in this direction and to expand transit.  Flanders liked the Nashville approach of setting aside 30% of the funds off the top for transit, bike/ped, and ITS, and argued that the Lee MPO should adopt this approach.  He also liked the idea that Nashville was benchmarking itself against its ideal of Denver for a multi-modal system.  Lee MPO needs to find a comparable jurisdiction to serve as our ideal.  Chairman Ruane said he'd like to see the Lee MPO take a "fix-it-first' approach, with the first priority being on maintaining the current system, then see if there are any revenues left over.  He argued we need a more transparent system so that the public can understand what a road project is costing and where the funds are coming from.  Ruane stated that the Lee MPO has a lot of tough decisions to make, and we need to say no to some transportation projects even though we've already spent money on ROW and planning for those projects.
BikeWalkLee Comments
At the end of the discussion, the public had an opportunity to comment and BikeWalkLee representatives (Darla Letourneau, Margaret Banyan, and Dan Moser) spoke about their "take-aways" from the discussion.
Letourneau spoke about the importance of focusing on the spending side of the equation.  Given the funding realities we're now dealing with, we can no longer afford to treat our transportation spending the way it's been done in the past.  The focus need to be on how do we change our transportation spending approach to live within the available resources, ensure that the highest priority projects are our focus, and that we are maximizing the use of our resources by right-sizing our projects to do the most good for the least money.  Letourneau noted that Nashville had thrown out the existing process, and Lee County can do the same.  The evaluation process developed by Nashville could be very useful for Lee County, providing us with a tool for starting the project lists from scratch.

Letourneau emphasized that we need to look at all the transportation projects in the pipeline. Just because the project was approved by a previous Board or is in the MPO LRTP doesn't mean it needs to go forward as currently planned. Just because we've already spent money on the project, doesn't mean that it cannot be changed or halted.  We don't have the resources we thought we were going to have when the project was originally envisioned so we have to re-visit and right-size or eliminate projects.  Nashville eliminated half their projects...and cut the cost of their LRTP by 50%...that's the magnitude of the task ahead for us.
Lee County has no option but to tackle it...all localities are competing against each other to attract and retain businesses, workers, families, and residents.  We know what it takes to be cutting edge and attract the "intellectual capital workers":' transportation choices, livable/walkable/bikable communities, quality of life attributes (parks, connectivity, arts and cultural scene, sense of community, etc.) transit, amenities of city life and vibrant downtown areas. 

As Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told us at the Tampa bike safety summit, he wants to make Tampa a "hip" and "cool" place to attract and keep smart, talented professionals want to live.  For Tampa and many other cities across the country, building biking infrastructure, launching bike share programs, expanding transit through BRTs, light rail, streetcars,  etc. is part of positioning the city to attract those workers.  These are  economic development tools and an important part of positioning our county to be vibrant and sustainable into the future.  Even if we don't want to be 'hip' we should at least be fiscally sound. 

Letourneau stated that it's going to require strong leadership and hands-on involvement by the MPO Board and other elected officials throughout the County.  This is tough stuff.  It is important.  But, it is doable.

Margaret Banyan commented about lessons from Nashville that apply to Ortiz Avenue, especially in regards to downsizing existing roadway plans.  She  emphasized that Nashville's goals were very consistent with what Lee County has explicitly stated that they want.  Since implementation is the hardest part of policy making, the Lee MPO needs to be prepared to make tough choices.  Still, the community supports the MPO on downsizing Ortiz and will continue to support initiatives that slow streets, enhance community livability, and save lives.
Moser's comments focused on the immediate decision before the Lee County Board on funding for transit.  While the Lee MPO 2035 LRTP envisions a expanded transit system, the Board of County Commissioners is proposing to scale back on current transit services in this year's budget deliberations.  Moser emphasized that Lee County needs a real commitment to transit that is consistent across all decision making bodies.
Next in the Series of Peer to Peer Exchanges

August 16th:  Sarasota.  The Lee MPO Board's next meeting is on Friday, August 16th, and at that meeting, there will be a presentation by a Sarasota team about their award-winning Honore Blvd. project. Instead of widening Honore Blvd. to be a 6-lane highway as originally planned, they changed it to be a multi-modal two-lane corridor with six roundabouts!  It is now successfully moving the traffic while saving millions in capital costs and will save even more in maintenance cost over the life of the road.  At the same time, the road is much safer for all users; and by using new low impact design for stormwater, it is much better for the environment.  This is truly a win-win-win....and something that Lee County needs to pursue. Click here for background on the project, including an excellent video.
September 20th: Broward County.  At the Sept. 20th Lee MPO Board meeting, a team from the Broward County MPO will do a presentation about their innovative LRTP, which includes a policy of no more roadway capacity expansion, with a shift to transit and bike/ped.
Special thanks to Michael Skipper for coming to Lee County to share the Nashville experiences and to give us some great ideas for Lee County's upcoming process.  Thanks to Lee MPO Executive Director, Don Scott, for arranging for this informative series of Peer to Peer Exchanges, which not only benefit the MPO Board, but also provide an excellent opportunity for staff and citizens throughout Lee County to be a part of the conversation.
Report by Darla Letourneau

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