Today was the annual reorganization of the Board, with Commissioner Kiker appointed Chair, and Commissioner Hamman appointed Vice-Chair.
At the Nov. 19th County Commission meeting, the Board approved changes to the transportation CIP, as discussed at the November 4th Management and Planning meeting. (See BWL's blog report from the Nov. 4th meeting.)
This item was not on the published agenda for the meeting (which is available to the public on the county's website), but rather, was handled as a "walk-on" item. (See walk-on agenda item now posted.)
As reported earlier, the Board agreed that the Estero Blvd. Improvement project on Fort Myers Beach is the #1 priority project, so they made slight delays in the Alico widening project construction schedule to allow Estero Blvd. to move a bit quicker.
BikeWalkLee's Darla Letourneau spoke at the Nov. 19th BoCC meeting, tying two agenda items together--the annual Transportation Concurrency report and the CIP agenda item.
The annual Transportation Concurrency report provides a functional assessment of the condition of our roadways, measuring roadway performance against the County’s established Level of Service or LOS standards--standards based exclusively on automobile congestion. Letourneau pointed out that this exclusive focus on auto-LOS has resulted in over-designed roads to handle capacity that only occurs at the very heaviest travel periods - the most congested hour of the most congested month of the year. It is like designing shopping mall parking lots to handle the volume of traffic on Christmas Eve or Black Friday. Many states and communities around the country are moving away for primary reliance on auto LOS for transportation planning.
Letourneau stated that the Concurrency Report tells us that 91% of our roadways are functioning at traffic volumes well below the capacity standard set for that road segment, i.e., our roadways are overbuilt. This means our current roadways can carry a great deal more traffic than they are currently carrying before any new lanes or roads would be needed.
Specifically, here's what the report says about the four road projects being discussed in the CIP agenda item:
- Estero Blvd. has traffic counts that are 83-90% of capacity.
- Burnt Store Rd. traffic is currently at 55% of capacity.
- Homestead Rd. is at 48% of capacity.
- Alico Rd. is only at 18% of capacity.
Letourneau stated that the concurrency report confirms that the Board is making the right decision to make and keep the Estero Blvd. improvement project its #1 priority. [Note that Estero Blvd. is constrained road, so the improvements are to provide multi-modal solutions to traffic, not expand lanes.] On the other hand, the report also confirms the position of BikeWalkLee, LPA, CSAC, and others, that the Alico Rd. project is not needed at this time.
Letourneau argued that with scarce transportation dollars, funding priorities should be on projects addressing the most urgent need, as measured by the county's own standards.
Also making public comments on this agenda item were several developers from the Alico Rd. project. They spoke about the importance of this project for the Research Diamond and for FGCU and argued that the Board had committed to them that Alico would be widened in two years. The original wording of the Alico project CIP description was amended to show the Board's support for the project, by adding the following sentence: "These phases could be advanced in the future at Board discretion should conditions warrant to support economic development initiatives, and if funding is available through government sources or private development sources." Commissioner Hamman suggested that the developers could advance fund the project and then the county could pay them back under some negotiated payback agreement. He asked that county staff reach out to the developers to promote speeding up the project with advanced funding.
Impact of LeeTran service cuts
As we reported earlier, citizens now have the opportunity to speak on any topic at the end of the bi-weekly regular BoCC meetings. At today's BoCC meeting there were public comments about the impact these service cuts, which went into effect Nov. 14th (see earlier blog) are having on Lee County residents.
BWL's Darla Letourneau shared with commissioners the real impact these cuts are having on Salus Transitional Living Center TLC clients. For residents recovering from substance abuse, the key for transition back to the community is a job, and for these clients to get and keep a job, they are reliant on public transportation. Many of the TLC clients work in local restaurants, and often don't get off work until 11 p.m. According to the TLC Director, as a result of recent service cutbacks in buses after 6 p.m., some clients are now having to walk from downtown Fort Myers to the TLC center late at night (a safety concern), and other clients working at restaurants in Fort Myers Beach on weekends are finding themselves stranded for 4 hours between LeeTran buses. It is a reminder of the real world impact of the commissioner's budget decisions on the lives of people in our community, esp. those who are most reliant on LeeTran services for their livelihood.
Mike Ulrich, President of the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind, spoke about concerns that the cutback in service hours for LeeTran would negatively impact Passport services for the disabled. He reported that they will be tracking the experience of Passport service users to determine if there are negative impacts and will report back, as the Board requested during the September budget hearings.
Upcoming Opportunities for Public Comment
The next opportunity for public comment at County Commission meetings will be at the Dec. 2nd Management and Planning meeting (1:30- 3:30 p.m.). The agenda should be available on the County's website by Nov. 25th.
There are two regular BoCC meetings in December--Dec. 3rd and Dec. 17th. At both these meetings, the public can speak both on items on the agenda (at the beginning of the meeting), or on items not on the agenda (at the end of the meeting). Agendas for those meetings will be on the County's website the week before each meeting.
Report by Darla Letourneau