The City Council may soon ask voters to approve a transportation bond proposal of up to $275 million in May. I tried to understand published descriptions of the proposed projects, but have been frustrated by brief, vague and often, misleading descriptions. How is the public expected to make an informed decision when I, a former urban planner with the Florida DOT, can’t decipher the many opaque descriptions?
Two of the worst examples in the “plan” are where Greenwood and Franklin avenues cross under the parkway and BNSF tracks.
Both projects are described as “widen Parkway undercrossing to include improved multimodal facilities.”
These projects won’t reduce congestion. Standing on both streets facing the parkway, I immediately noticed tall supporting walls very close to the pavement. From my experience, it was obvious that, to widen the avenues, the parkway and railroad bridges would need to be lengthened. I found nothing in the hundreds of pages of the Citywide Transportation Advisory Committee materials describing how these bridges would be lengthened.
Based on my knowledge, the logistics and expense of these projects have not been properly considered. To lengthen the parkway bridges, all traffic from four heavily congested lanes must be shifted to only two lanes since existing right-of way is too narrow to build a new bridge next to the existing bridge. Traffic backups might extend all the way to Redmond and La Pine. Meanwhile, crosstown traffic of Greenwood and Franklin avenues would be detoured for removal of the existing bridges, rock excavation for the widening, and construction of new bridges. Closing Greenwood and Franklin avenues would shift traffic to other east-west streets which are already heavily congested. Be aware that these lengthy detours would occur twice, once for southbound lanes and again for northbound lanes. Would ODOT and the Federal Highway Administration agree to this? An accident would gridlock the city. These parkway bridge replacements would be the easiest of three project components.
The BNSF railroad has multiple tracks and bridges crossing the avenues. The simple fact with any BNSF tracks is all tracks must remain in operation while new bridges and tracks are constructed.
BNSF’s existing right-of-way is too narrow to build new bridges and tracks next to the existing ones. The only option is for replacement bridges to be constructed east of the existing right-of-way where private properties with operating businesses would have to be purchased and demolished. Railroads require very long radius curves to minimize centrifugal forces. This necessary geometry for re-aligned tracks may require acquisition of adjacent properties for at least half a mile north and south of the planned replacement bridges. Next is the final component.
Looking east and west from the parkway undercrossings, I noticed existing buildings very close to tall retaining walls along both sides of the avenues (especially along Greenwood).
How can these avenues be widened without purchasing and demolishing buildings adjacent to the avenues? I was not able to estimate how many properties would be impacted because I lacked essential pieces of information. Staff has yet provide drawings depicting the entire length of the widening projects. The bottom line is the cost to the public will be many times staff’s estimate and cause horrendous detours.
My job with the Florida DOT was to present and explain highway plans to councils of 14 counties and dozens of municipalities for their buy-in. The most effective means were before-and-after depictions showing projects on the ground and realistic cost estimates. Our community needs to see this level of transparency for these undercrossing widenings which I describe as planner fantasies.
The potential $290 million bond proposal (part of the 20-year, $1.1 billion Transportation System Plan) has many other questionable projects. City Council should show the public sufficient project descriptions, depictions, documented needs, documented benefits and realistic costs before asking us for money.