Less federal money squeezes county's transportation projects


Among the projects most likely to get funding is an extension of the trail on Waldo Road pictured here. The trail would be extended from Northeast 47th Avenue all the way to Waldo.

ERICA BROUGH/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 7:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 7:18 p.m.

Alachua County hopes to secure transportation funding for top-priority projects in the area, but dwindling federal funding could stymie its plans.

Facts

Projects most likely to be funded

-- Melrose: Sidewalk on SR 26 connecting Santa Fe Park with an existing sidewalk downtown
-- Waldo: Extend Waldo Road Trail from NE 47th Ave. to Waldo City Park on NE 147th Ave.
-- High Springs:
- Rail-trail from downtown to NW 142nd Ave. in the south and Santa Fe River to the west
- Multi-use trail on NW 182nd Ave. from abandoned rail corridor to Poe Springs Park
Source: County presentation for March 26 meeting

The Florida Department of Transportation's District 2 updates its five-year work program every fiscal year. And every year, the 18 counties within its jurisdiction are invited to submit lists of priority projects they would like to get funded.

Locally, the Gainesville Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization identifies priorities within its boundaries, while the Alachua County Commission, members of which also sit on the MTPO board, submits proposals located outside those boundaries.

FDOT District 2 won't adopt its five-year plan for fiscal year 2013-14 and onward until July, when its fiscal year begins, but the Alachua County Commission approved a priority list this week for the following edition of the work program, which would run from fiscal year 2014-15 through fiscal year 2018-19.

The county's priorities include trail and resurfacing projects, among others. But the ones most likely to get funding -- if any do -- are the multi-modal proposals involving trails and sidewalks, said Chris Dawson, senior transportation planner for the county.

The top-priority multi-modal projects are a High Springs rail-trail project, a connecting sidewalk for Melrose, and an extension all the way to Waldo of the trail that is along the east side of Waldo Road.

The road-related suggestions, such as widening streets or modifying intersections, are less likely to receive federal funding, Dawson said. Several projects on the list have been prioritized for the past few years with no luck.

"We're at a point where FDOT just doesn't have money to spend on lots of local roads, generally speaking," Dawson said. "To be perfectly honest with you, the only projects that we've really seen funded in the last five years are the multi-modal ones."

A portion of federal transportation funding is specifically dedicated to multi-modal projects, but most of the remaining money goes toward federal highways or interstates. The county is basically on its own in paying for county-road infrastructure projects.

"The federal government has continuously shown that it's not willing to find money for those things," Dawson said.

Federal funding is limited, so it isn't surprising that local road projects that may have been covered in the past aren't funded as often now, Dawson said.

The top three multi-modal projects on the county's newest FDOT priority list have the best chance of being funded, but it is unlikely all of them will be, he said.

The High Springs proposal, which is the highest-ranked multi-modal proposal, would establish a rail-trail near the city's downtown area. The 5-mile rail-trail conversion would cost a little over $1 million, while a 2 -mile multi-use path would cost $636,000, according to the priority list presented to the County Commission this week.

The second-ranked Melrose proposal, which would cost about $70,000, would establish a half-mile sidewalk on State Road 26 to connect an existing sidewalk downtown to Santa Fe Park.

Finally, the county proposed extending the Waldo Road Trail from Northeast 47th Avenue to Waldo City Park on Northeast 147th Avenue. The 9-mile project would cost about $2 million, according to the priority list.

Hawthorne Mayor Matt Surrency said extending the trail would benefit the city of Hawthorne as well by increasing connectivity in the regional trail system.

"In the grand scheme of things on a regional basis, that'd be great for Hawthorne because we're hoping to connect all of our bike trails and create ecotourism by being able to use the bike trails and make an entire loop," he said.

James Bennett, urban transportation development manager for FDOT District 2, said the Gainesville MTPO's priorities typically focus more on non-road projects like multi-modal proposals.

Bennett said the district tries to fund projects in an equitable way among its counties. A county could get an expensive project funded one year but nothing the next, but ultimately the FDOT aims to strike a balance in how it funds transportation projects within its five-year work program.

"We try to make sure everybody's getting their share," he said, "but everybody doesn't get something every single year."

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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