Saturday, October 17, 2015

Lee MPO debates critical road projects and need for expanding transportation revenues

The Oct. 16th Lee MPO Board meeting focused on two major issues--the annual FDOT 5-year workplan and the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP).  The topics were of sufficient interest that 16 of 17 Board members were present...including all five county commissioners (something that hasn't occurred in years). The Board elected Fort Myers Councilman Flanders as Chair, serving out the term of Councilman Leonardo who resigned in Sept. The Citizens Advisory Committee's package of recommendations stimulated an extensive discussion about the urgent need for expanding our transportation revenues.  

Report by Darla Letourneau
 Lee MPO Board Actions Taken on 10/16/15
FDOT 5-Year Work Plan
The Board had extensive discussions about the draft FDOT 5-year workplan, expressing deep frustration with the lack of funding and the delays in moving forward on urgently needed projects.  The most critical need is widening of SR 82, given the alarming rates of crashes and fatalities (21 fatalities and 1,011 crashes with 610 injuries over the past two years).  The Board voted to ask FDOT to change the planned construction from concrete to asphalt and use the $20 million savings to come up with a Design/Build financing approach that would allow the roadway to be built in 4 years vs. 8 years. 
 Darla Letourneau made BikeWalkLee's comments on the draft FDOT plan, and called the plan disappointing, with an overall 17% reduction in the 5th year "new funds" as compared to last year's 5th year funding level. ·She stated that Lee County is not getting its "fair share" of state funds, primarily because SWFL is not participating in the State's top priority transportation investments--the port system, East Coast rail investments, and SIS investments in the I-4 and I-95 corridors.  This year's FDOT workplan is one more piece of evidence that the revenues coming to Lee County from all sources are continuing to decline and is the new reality. 

In terms of bike/ped projects, Letourneau expressed disappointment that the study for a shared use path between Cape Coral and Pine Island, which was approved last year for funding in FY 2020, has now been delayed another year.  She also expressed disappointment that FDOT once again failed to fund the joint Lee/Collier #1 priority for the Regional Enhancement project: Old US 41 in Bonita to Collier shared use path. In total, the Lee MPO requested funding for 32 bike/ped projects and FDOT is only funding 7 of those projects (22%). Last year, 35% of the MPO's request was funded.  Of those 7 funded projects, 5 of them only received planning money--not construction money as requested.   On the upside, bike/ped spending represents 7% of all transportation funds, up from 6% in last year's workplan.  So, while the overall pie is shrinking, at least bike/ped's share of the pie is holding its own.

 Given the Board's many concerns with the draft FDOT workplan, they decided to table a vote on it until they could see a revised plan.  [Note: the FDOT workplan does not require MPO approval.]

2040 LRTP draft projects list
MPO staff presented the Board with the recommendations that came from their Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and their Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC):
  • The TAC recommended that the Corkscrew Road and Veterans/Santa Barbara projects be moved up on the list. 
  • The CAC made three recommendations:
  • ·         That impact fees be raised to the full amount.
  • ·         That the MPO include road projects that widen existing roads before new roadway alignments on the list; and
  • ·         that the timing of the Corkscrew Road project be moved up.
Public comment focused on the request to move up the Corkscrew project, to push for an I-75 interchange in Cape Coral, and the need to collect 100% of impact fees as well as find other sources of revenues for transportation projects.  Both the News-Press and Naples Daily News articles capture the Boards discussion about these issues. 

Letourneau endorsed Mayor Nelson's comments that what has been lacking is the political will to raise more revenues, and argued that multi-modal transportation expenditures should be viewed as investments in our economic future.  Given the significant shortfall in transportation revenues, the county's decision not to collect the full road impact fees has worsened the situation and will make it difficult in terms of equity and fairness to go to the voters and ask them to pay more taxes to meet the county's pressing transportation needs.  Letourneau applauded the Plan's focus on giving priority to maintaining and improving our current infrastructure before investing in expanding facilities, with the first 14 projects on the list being bridge replacements.

The MPO Board voted to amend the 2040 Plan’s Cost Feasible Projects list to make the following changes:
·         The Board approved a motion to move up the Corkscrew Rd. project
  • ·       Begin the construction of the Corkscrew segment between Ben Hill Griffin and the entrance to Corkscrew Preserve five years earlier by moving the funding from the 2026-30 to 2021-25,
  • ·       Accelerate the funding of the Planning and Engineering and Right of Way acquisition for the segment between the entrance to Corkscrew Preserve and Alico Road by 5 years from 2026-30 to 2021-25, and
  • ·       Accelerate the construction of the segment between the entrance to Corkscrew Preserve and Alico Road by at least 5 years from 2031-40 to 2026-30
  • ·         In order to fund these changes the MPO Board had to delay the extension of Three Oaks Parkway from Alico Road to Daniels Road. They decided that it is more important to solve traffic safety problems on existing roads than to build new roads.
As a result of the extensive discussion on the need for more revenues to fund the county's multi-modal transportation needs, the Board adopted a motion by Sanibel Mayor Ruane that the MPO Executive Committee (which has one member from each jurisdiction) undertake an effort to explore all financing options that can be brought back to the Board for consideration.

Next Steps:
The next step in the process is a public hearing on the 2040 LRTP, which is scheduled for the Nov. 20th MPO Board meeting.  Then at the Dec. 18th MPO Board meeting, they will take final action on the 2040 Plan.

Recent Articles re: LRTP Transportation Issues:
1.  News-Press Oct. 8,2015:  The CAC's recommendation on impact fees was covered in a News-Press 10/8 article.
2.  Link to Impact Fee Revenues Report and Analysis--Oct. 2015 (actuals for 30 months, through    end of Sept. 2015)
4.  News-Press Oct. 13, 2015: Bonita, Estero push for fees rapped
5.  Naples Daily News Oct. 14, 2015 Editorial:  With construction booming again, do roads fit into the equation? 
7.  Naples Daily News Oct. 17, 2015: Fixing traffic woes proving a headache for Lee officials

Recent BWL-related blogs
6. LRTP Resource Document: BikeWalkLee put together a resource document for the 2040 LRTP Process (with lots of links) based on our many related blog posts. (5/13/15)

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