New transportation plan approved

The policy emphasizes bus rapid transit system, dense urban developments.

Published: Monday, February 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 9:56 p.m.

Alachua County has formally adopted a new long-term plan for transportation that aims to reduce vehicle trips on area roadways by shifting over time to multi-use residential and retail developments and a bus rapid transit system.

But even if state growth regulators at the Department of Community Affairs approve, substantial changes to the area's road system and transportation network could still be a decade away, said Alachua Growth Management director Steve Lachnicht.

Still, Lachnicht said the new approach to transportation planning, which county commissioners approved in an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan last Tuesday, was a "prototype" in the state that moved away from the reliance on road widening projects and the traditional model of concurrency. Concurrency is a requirement that space for additional vehicle trips be available on area roadways before new development may take place.

Some areas of the county west of Interstate 75 cannot see additional growth at this point because of road concurrency rules. Lachnicht said DCA officials were also critical in the past of Alachua County's approach to concurrency because, state officials argued, it pushed development away from cities and encouraged urban sprawl.

The two-pronged approach that the county approved last Tuesday would encourage more dense, urban-style developments that include a mix of residential, shopping and office space. Their layout would promote pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and the developments would be built along the bus rapid transit system that the county and the city of Gainesville are planning to develop - with an early price tag in excess of $180 million.

The policy changes are intended to cut down on the number of vehicle trips on area roads and the distance of those trips, Lachnicht said.

While the plan is in place, it remains to be seen how much interest it will generate in the development community and how most of it will be funded.

The county's 20-year transportation construction plan, which mixes road widening projects, dedicated transit lanes, bicycle trails and pedestrian paths, has an estimated price tag in excess of $200 million. Many potential funding sources that could finance those costs are not in place. They include a possible mobility fee on new development, which would take the place of impact fees; revenue from a future possible sales tax referendum; money for the transit system generated by a possible student transportation fee at Santa Fe College; and state and federal money.

Adam Bolton, past president of the Builders Association of North Central Florida, told county commissioners last Tuesday that he had concerns about the financial impact a possible mobility fee could have on the local development industry.

"We also would favor a community-wide funding mechanism for the mobility system and transportation in general," Bolton said, "from a broad-based sales tax or property tax revenue created by growth."

The developers behind two planned mixed-use developments - Newberry Village, which would be built off of Newberry Road and Fort Clarke Boulevard; and Santa Fe Village, which would be off Northwest 39th Avenue and Interstate 75 - have pledged to put funding toward the development of a bus rapid transit system.

The county's plan is to provide incentives - in the way of lower mobility fees - for developers that build the mixed-use urban-style developments encouraged in the recently adopted Comprehensive Plan amendment.

Last Tuesday, County Commissioner Mike Byerly voted against one part of the new plan: the transportation and road projects planned for construction over the next 20 years. Byerly said that he believed too many road-widening projects intended to ease congestion remained in the county's plans, and the only thing that could make the planned bus rapid transit system work was if traffic gridlock on area roads drove people out of their cars and onto buses.

"Everywhere there's congestion, we try to ease it with another four-lane (roadway)," Byerly said. "That's the suburban model."

It will be months before the DCA renders a decision on the county's amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.

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