Monday, December 21, 2015

Lee MPO Approves 2040 Transportation Plan and Sets in Motion Effort to Find Additional Transportation Revenues

The Lee County 2040 Transportation Plan is the 25-year vision of how to meet our community’s transportation needs and expectations through 2040. The plan incorporates all types of travel including driving, biking, walking, public transportation, and freight movement. At the Dec. 18, 2015 Lee MPO Board meeting, the Board unanimously adopted the proposed 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP).  This action marked the completion of a 2 1/2 year effort involving the MPO Board, its Executive Committee, MPO staff and consultants, FDOT staff, MPO committees, as well as citizen participation throughout the process.  BikeWalkLee has been an active participant in the Plan development over the past several years.  For a review of how the Plan performed against six of the key goals set out by the MPO Board, see BikeWalkLee's assessment report. For background on the process and our previous comments, see the BikeWalkLee blog posts at the end of this post.   

  Click here to read the Executive Summary of the Lee MPO 2040 Plan, and check the Lee MPO 2040 Transportation Plan webpage  for more background information.

Report By Darla Letourneau

The draft 2040 LRTP was discussed at both the Nov. 20th and the Dec. 18th Lee MPO Board meetings, culminating in its adoption at the Dec. meeting.  The major shortfall in funding to meet the transportation infrastructure needs of the growing county dominated the discussion during the entire Plan update process.  There was universal agreement that additional transportation revenues were needed to sustain our economy and quality of life given the projected population growth.  As reported in our previous blog about the Oct. 16th MPO Board meeting, the Board charged its Executive
 Committee with undertaking an effort to explore all financing options for the Board's consideration.

As a result of citizen comments, committee recommendations, and Board discussion, the Board voted to make several changes to the draft LRTP, including moving up the construction of the Corkscrew Rd. widening, keeping the Three Oaks extension in the first 5-year segment, removing the northern section of the proposed CR 951 from the draft needs plan, and undertaking a hurricane evacuation study for I-75 and the Cape Coral area.  In total, $1.8 billion of road projects are planned through 2040 (see Appendix B, Cost Feasible Projects), leaving $2.4 billion in unfunded projects on the needs list (See Appendix A, Needs Plan Projects).

How does the Plan meet the MPO Board's goals?
From the beginning of the process, it was a given that revenues from all sources were declining (down 26%), at the same time our population is growing (51%). The MPO's task was to ensure that the county's scarce resources were wisely invested--to prioritize maintaining and improving the existing roads before creating new capacity; to downsize and right-size projects; to integrate land use and transportation planning; and to fund a balanced multi-modal transportation system.

However, the 2040 LRTP is actually less balanced and less multi-modal than the 2035 Plan.  Given that no new revenues are projected for transit services, the adopted Plan assumes that the current level of LeeTran services is all we'll see between now and the year 2040.  This was the focus of BikeWalkLee's comments made by Letourneau at the Nov. 20th MPO Board meeting.  As Letourneau stated, "over the past 5 years no attention has been given to doing what it takes to design a robust countywide transit system with a dedicated funding source that can move transit from its current "social service" model to one focused on attracting "choice riders".  In 2010, the Board adopted a 2035 needs plan that reflected a visionary transit system that promoted "choice riders", with 15 minute headways on all route by 2035.  The price tag for this vision was about $600 M, while the resources available were about $20 M.  To implement this vision would require 30 times the resources currently spent on transit.  Designing a robust transit system with stable and adequate funding sources is one of the key challenges that the Executive Committee needs to take up as part of its transportation funding work.

Still, the Board, its committees, staff and consultants should be commended for the many improvements in the LRTP process. The most significant and successful innovation is the land use scenarios project which integrated land use with transportation planning.  Another major improvement was the focus on having realistic revenue projections so that the Plan that was produced was 100% fundable. Enhanced public engagement was also one of the improvements in this update process.  Appendix D of the Executive Summary includes the results from the public input.

Some of the other process improvements, such as the new project application and review process, fell short in the implementation. For a review of how the Plan performed against six of the key goals set out by the MPO Board, see BikeWalkLee's assessment report.

What's in the Plan for Bike/Ped?

The Bike/Ped Plan looks at a 10 year horizon.  The Needs Plan for Bicycle, Pedestrian, Multi-Use Facilities Projects included 87 projects with a total price tag of $202 million.  The projects were prioritized, with 35 projects making the final cut of the cost feasible plan ($48 M worth), reflecting the projected revenues available over the next 10 years.   Thus, only 24% of the needed projects are included in the plan.  Among the projects on the list are 18 shared use paths totaling 47 miles.  There are also 24 miles of sidewalks, distributed among 15 projects. See Appendix A for the full needs list and Appendix B for the cost feasible list of projects.

What is the significance of this Plan?
Since the 1970s, federal law has required MPOs to ensure that existing and future expenditures for all transportation projects and programs in the region are based on a continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive planning process.  So this Plan sets the countywide long-term transportation policy and
investment framework (between now and 2040) given the projected available funding from all sources--federal, state, and local.  In Lee County's 2040 Plan, 45% of the revenues come from federal and state sources, while 55% comes from local funds.

To ensure that the Plan stays on track, at the Dec. 18th MPO Board meeting, BWL's Letourneau  encouraged the Board to review annually whether the revenue estimates are on track from all the various sources and to review project costs.  The Board shouldn't wait 5 years to discover that the Plan is seriously off track, as occurred with the 2035 plan, primarily because that Plan overestimated revenues.   The Plan amendment process provides a tool for the MPO Board to review proposed changes and the consequences of those proposed changes for other projects in the Plan.  Letourneau noted that this is also important for accountability and transparency to the general public.

Note that the MPO Board cancelled its January meeting.  The February 19th meeting will include a discussion of the roles and responsibilities of the MPO, as requested by the BoCC.

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