Traffic looms as a key issue for University Corners


Wesbound cars sit in rush hour traffic at the intersection of University Avenue and Northwest 13th Street in Gainesville on Wednesday.

Brett Le Blanc/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 7:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 7:23 p.m.

It's a familiar rush-hour scene at the intersection of University Avenue and 13th Street.

Traffic backs up for several blocks in every direction. At times, drivers sit still at a green light because there's no room to move ahead.

Now, on the grassy field at the intersection's northwest corner, the long-stalled University Corners project is back on the table.

If built, it will, under the plan now before the city, bring some 500 condos or apartments, 250 hotel rooms, 100,000 square feet of retail space and a 1,200 space parking garage to the corner of University and 13th.

While developers and city planners expect pedestrians, bicycles and buses to be in the mix, it also will bring additional traffic.

"Anything you put there is going to generate traffic," City Commissioner Susan Bottcher said. "Right now, it is just a big empty lot ... There's going to be an impact on traffic absolutely. I don't think you can have any kind of development anywhere and not affect traffic."

In this case, the traffic will impact two already congested roadways.

To the south and north of University Avenue, Southwest/Northwest 13th Street (U.S. 441) is already operating at an unacceptable level of service, meaning that the average daily traffic on the road exceeds what it was designed to accommodate, according to a late 2012 report from the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization.

On 13th Street from University south to Archer Road, there are 35,000 average daily trips on a road designed to accommodate 28,200.

The stretch of University Avenue directly west of 13th Street is at 99 percent capacity — with 28,000 daily trips on a road designed for 28,200.

"I'm concerned about traffic," Commissioner Todd Chase said. "The way I see it, pretty much in all directions there's no room to add any more capacity to those roadways. It could be a traffic situation so bad that people avoid the area or begin to use another mode of transportation."

Chase said traffic issues on 13th and University could be further exacerbated by another development planned just to the north across Northwest 13th Street.

On the east side of the 300 block of Northwest 13th Street, an eight-story building with 26,000 square feet of street-level retail, 20,000 square feet of office space and up to 168 condominiums or apartments has received zoning approval from the city.

Commissioner Thomas Hawkins believes the University Corners project should improve the traffic on the city's roadways. He expects a significant amount of foot traffic and bicycle trips — far more than an exclusively single-family-home subdivision would have — and shorter-distance vehicle trips because retail stores, the University of Florida and Shands at UF are all in close proximity.

As for the fact that 13th Street and University Avenue are at or above capacity, Hawkins said that is nothing unique.

"You can say the exact same thing about housing built in Jonesville, too," he said. "That statement is not unique to University Corners. The difference is we will have less vehicle traffic and shorter trips."

As it stands, the City Commission will consider requested changes to prior zoning and land-use approvals — and a request for some $37 million in property tax rebates from the Community Redevelopment Agency — before a detailed traffic impact study is done during the development review process.

David Coffey, the land-use attorney representing University Corners, said the amount the developer would pay to mitigate transportation impacts would be determined at that time.

At this point, consultants working for University Corners have submitted a trip-generation table using the city's criteria for trip credits. It projected a daily raw trip generation of 7,850. But credits for bicycle, pedestrian and transit traffic, the internal capture of trips and the vehicle trips generated by the on-site development razed several years back to make way for University Corners, whittle down the projection of additional daily vehicle trips to fewer than 2,000.

"The expectation is it will be occupied by university staff, faculty and students who will live there and walk to the university every day," Coffey said. "And that is the reason why the city has for 20 years encouraged dense urban development near the university."

Bottcher said it is important to have bus stops in close proximity to the development with pull-out lanes so the buses would not impede traffic flow. She also said the 1,200-space parking garage needs to be able to accommodate not just residents and hotel guests but employees.

As for traffic flow on both University and 13th, there is no driveway access planned from either roadway. The garage entrance and exit will be off Northwest Second Avenue, Coffey said.

For now, state transportation officials are waiting on the detailed traffic study to weigh in on the projected impacts.

"We do have safety and operational concerns with a development this size," said Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Gina Busscher. "We are waiting on the developer to update their traffic impact study and then we'll cross-examine it with our own analysis and determine if we concur."

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