County gets update on large developments

Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 6:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 6:13 p.m.

Alachua County staff updated county commissioners Tuesday on the status of a few large developments on tap for the community and offered insight on transportation issues, including a recent bus rapid transit-related study.

Transportation Planning Manager Jeff Hays provided the updates for the County Commission on transit-oriented developments in the works.

Celebration Pointe has gotten commission approval for its preliminary development plan and its developer’s agreement and is aiming for a grand opening in summer 2015, according to the staff presentation.

Santa Fe Village also has received commission approval for its preliminary development plan, and its developer’s agreement is under negotiation. Meanwhile, the preliminary development plan for Springhills is under review.

Hays also discussed the county staff’s perspective on the GO-Enhance RTS draft study regarding bus rapid transit and its alternatives.

County staff determined that the transportation system management (TSM) option would be a “worthwhile interim step” toward a bus rapid transit service that would be more fully realized later on and would shorten travel times between east Gainesville and the Santa Fe College area for both current and new riders, according to the staff presentation.

Staff also said it believes building dedicated transit lanes within county transit-oriented developments using a phased-in approach would be a cost-effective way to grow transit ridership.

Both the bus rapid transit (BRT Build) and TSM options would include establishing traffic signal priority for transit and queue jumps, which would be short pullout lanes for buses, Hays said. BRT Build would have dedicated bus lanes and off-board fare collection, while the TSM alternative wouldn’t.

Grant funding for these types of projects is very competitive, Hays said.

Gainesville would rank low for mobility improvements when being evaluated as a candidate for federal grant money, according to the RTS draft study, but Hays said a transportation project would need 30 million riders to rank high on that mark.

“We’re never, ever going to rank highly in that category,” Hays said.

However, the options for BRT Build and TSM would rank high in environmental benefits and medium high-to-high in cost-effectiveness, he said.

The capital costs are much lower for the TSM scenario than for the BRT Build option, he said, but the local capital cost per rider is lower for the BRT Build alternative.

The BRT Build system would outperform the TSM option in terms of ridership levels, assuming the community received federal funding and had the local capital dollars to support the project.

Commissioner Susan Baird said bus pullouts would be great for decreasing congestion but she doubted the need for dedicated bus lanes.

The County Commission also discussed its priority list for the 2014 transportation sales tax initiative that it is developing for the November ballot.

Commissioner Mike Byerly was adamant that the county set aside 5 percent of its share of the funding for new bicycle and pedestrian projects. He said he wouldn’t support a version of this sales tax proposal that doesn’t include this “modest” set-aside.

The County Commission voted 4-1 with Byerly in dissent to direct staff to return with a bicycle/pedestrian project list that would incorporate staff’s priorities as well as the Alachua Countywide Bicycle Master Plan.

Byerly said he is weary of working on things like the bicycle master plan and then watching it gather dust.

“It’s a thoughtful, engineer-consulted, multi-year effort,” Byerly said of the master plan. “We have money now and it’s like it doesn’t exist. I don’t understand that.”

Byerly told The Sun after the meeting that he didn’t support the motion because the forthcoming staff-recommended list — rather than being developed based on the priorities set forth in the bicycle master plan, which he said were thoroughly vetted — will not be based on a cost-benefit analysis and will not be developed in coordination with the city of Gainesville.

Commissioner Lee Pinkoson said during the meeting that he was frustrated by Byerly’s unwillingness to compromise.

“You know, it’s got to be 100 percent or you go against it,” he said.

“No, it’s 5 percent,” Byerly countered.

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