Four-laning is folly


Published: Monday, January 17, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 9:26 p.m.
The Christmastime vote of the Alachua County Commission accepting the four-lane paving of SW 24th Avenue (currently unpaved) was ill-considered, untimely and in direct contradiction to years of community-based planning.
County commissioners should reconsider this vote and think about returning to the original, citizen-based, community-friendly two-lane plan of residential-retail mix.
There is no other justification for four lanes than the unneeded expansion of Butler Plaza. This expansion will be a strong disincentive, and perhaps fatal, to the east Gainesville redevelopment efforts that have been planned for several years. The demand for retail space and retail services in a community is limited, as is clear from the explosion of State Road 200 and collapse of U.S. 441 commercial areas in Marion County.
This is the fourth time the board has changed its mind about this project, causing several years' delay and the waste of almost a million tax dollars in consultant fees and staff time. This sudden turnabout on the project was apparently spurred by an unrequested $3 million gift from Congress, an amount that would be consumed in meeting federal design requirements and not go toward construction costs.
With the transportation sales tax referendum defeated, what will be the source of the $25 million or more in construction, land acquisition and hazardous waste site remediation costs? What projects and programs will not be funded in order to pay for this political boondoggle?
Further, the concept of four-laning this street for the benefit of Clark Butler's latest shopping center contradicts the conclusions and recommendations of the Florida Transportation and Land Use Study Committee, published just five years ago. Commissioner Paula DeLaney was a member of that committee, which reported unanimous recommendations to the governor and Legislature.
Among these recommendations is the encouragement of "smart communities" whose planning is focused on implementing community visions (as was done for a two-lane SW 24th Avenue). The emphasis of the state report is on implementing multimodal transportation and smart land-use planning to mitigate and ultimately avoid creating the congestion that strangles our communities. Does Commissioner DeLaney not remember what she learned and recommended while serving on that committee?
The four-laning of SW 24th Avenue in order to facilitate Butler's expansion plans is the worst sort of land-use and transportation planning. In order to provide Butler and his heirs with the means to avoid certain normal financial costs of shopping center development, the county commissioners will ensure an east side that continues to struggle economically, increased congestion in the 34th Street-Archer Road corridor and an older section of Butler Plaza that will suffer from a lack of reinvestment and renovation.
Surely this board is capable of learning from the example of Marion County. Surely this commission realizes that it represents all of the people of Alachua County and serves as the caretaker of the future of this community - not just the Butler family.
Phyllis Park Saarinen is a former member of the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization Citizen Advisory Committee and the Alachua County Economic Development Advisory Committee.

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