City again puts high priority on transit

Published: Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 7:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 7:49 p.m.

Gainesville's priority project list for a transportation sales tax that may go on the November 2014 ballot puts the majority of money toward bus service, including a planned rapid transit system.

The project list totals $427 million. That's almost four times more than the city expects to see in revenue from a potential sales tax. The rationale was that inclusion on the list makes a project at least eligible for funding.

The more realistic funding projection is if the County Commission, which has the ultimate say, puts an eight-year, one-cent tax on the ballot. In that scenario, Gainesville would get about $108.6 million. Fifty-one percent of that would go toward transit.

Commissioners approved the project list 4-2 Thursday, with Mayor Ed Braddy and Commissioner Todd Chase in opposition and Randy Wells absent.

Like the debate leading up to the County Commission's roads tax referendum last year, which failed with 67 percent opposition, the city's plans for bus rapid transit were again a point of contention.

The total priority project list includes more than $90 million for bus rapid transit.

City staff's more scaled-back projection of what an eight-year tax would actually generate included $21 million for phase one of a bus rapid transit system, with it running from The Oaks Mall to the Five Points area in east Gainesville.

Braddy said he felt the city did not have the population density or the bus ridership to support rapid transit.

He said the money should instead go toward maintaining and improving current bus service. At the same time, Braddy also questioned why the city would put more than half its projected funding toward transit when that mode of transportation had only around a 4 percent share of the total travel trips in the city.

Commissioners Thomas Hawkins and Lauren Poe said they felt the city's list of projects reflected a balanced approach that made improvements to all modes of transportation.

In response to some of Braddy's comments, Hawkins said bus rapid transit was part of the city and county's adopted transportation plans. Several approved but unbuilt developments in the unincorporated county were approved on the condition that they would be served by it, Hawkins added.

Hawkins said the argument it should not be on the project list would "erode trust" in the city and county commissions.

Commissioner Susan Bottcher said she felt there was a stigma around the term bus rapid transit. She said she felt the term "express park and ride" was more in line with the city's plans.

Chase said he felt the commission was approving a priority project list too early in the process. Moving ahead at this point in time with a list including bus rapid transit would generate opposition to the sales tax, he said.

"It's kind of a bummer to me that we've created the battle lines now; or we potentially have," Chase said.

Poe said he felt the commission vote would advance the public discourse on the sales tax referendum.

"If we're going to have the public discussion on it, they have to have something to discuss," Poe said.

During public comment, Duane Gildea, an officer in the county's Democratic Executive Committee, said he trusted all commissioners, "even" Chase, but not Braddy. Gildea pointed to comments Braddy made on the political talk radio show the Ward Scott Files that morning about buses with only four passengers on them. Those comments, Gildea said, showed "arrogance" when the worker who cleans Braddy's seat at the dais probably has to ride a bus to work.

Braddy later said Gildea "was intellectually dishonest and intentionally so." He said his full comments on the radio included an observation that some buses are full and expressed support for funding and improving existing bus service.

This is city staff's current projected list of transportation projects under an eight-year, one-cent tax. Roads, sidewalks and bicycle/pedestrian projects:

• Pavement management $12,000,000

• Signal Replacement Eighth/Sixth Street: $375,000

• SW Sixth Street: $5,016,000

• W 62nd Blvd (existing section): $23,800,000

• NW Eighth Avenue Bridge: $2,600,000

• Bus Bay Main Street: $500,000

• ADA Access Improvements: $2,500,000

• Sidewalks: $1,200,000

• Bicycle/Pedestrian safety: $2,100,000

• SW 40th Blvd — SW 47th to SR 24: $2,900,000

TOTAL $52,991,000

Service improvements:

• Routes 2, 11, 24, 27: $4,600,000

• Routes 6, 10, 15, 43: $5,600,000

• New Routes 44, 45, 47, 77, 88: $6,200,000

• Maintain existing service (buses): $14,500,000

• Bus stop improvements: $2,300,000

• Paratransit vehicles: $500,000

• Digital radio system upgrade: $400,000

• MRT Center (design): $500,000

• Bus rapid transit (Phase 1): $21,000,000

TOTAL $55,600,000

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