At the May 12th meeting I heard a lot of people asking a lot of questions about traffic so I thought I would write a blog of what I know. Here it is in no priority order and completely random as thoughts come to my mind. Let me put a disclaimer on all of these comments as they are just my comments and only educated guesses so if it doesn’t turn out like this, it is only my best guess. It will be interesting to look back in 6 months and see how close I came to the mark. But if you want to know what I know, read on.
Will the developments be built?
There is no crystal ball but I do know this. I have watched countless hours of video from the BCC (Board of County Commissioner) meetings and they always make very thoughtful votes and in favor of the majority. I can almost tell you how each board member will vote based on how they have voted in the past. If there is an overwhelming number of people against this development, I will go out on a limb and say that Commissioner Edwards will not support the developments and most likely the other commissioners and mayor will vote in sync. I have seen some very gut wrenching and difficult votes that had to be made and saw all kinds of emotion from the commissioners and mayor. Emotions like sadness, anger, frustration, empathy, regret, and joy too. My personal feeling is these men and women try to do what is best for us, the residents.
The process goes like this. When a rezoning is in front of the BCC, the commissioner from that district is responsible for making the motion and is then seconded by another member and then a vote is taken. In this case, Commissioner Edwards, our commissioner in District 5, will be asked to make the motion as this is in District 5 and he is the commissioner who initiates the vote. I don’t know what he is thinking right now but if I were in his shoes seeing the tone at the meetings and the situation traffic is in right now, at this moment I could not support the developments and would make a motion against. Who can tell what the next few weeks will bring. These developments hinge on traffic and a solution to the problem and enough money from the developments to help fix traffic. If there is a solution to traffic as residents are most concerned about then it might move forward. Commissioner Edwards is well aware of this and I am confident will make the right decision when the time comes.
What is the county staff role in the application process?
I have had a lot of interaction with county staff through emails, phone calls and meetings. I find the staff to be very customer oriented, very professional, courteous and willing to help in any way. The staff have a very difficult job in my opinion. Whatever they feel inside, they must remain neutral. The application process is defined by law and no one in the county has the option to deny an application from going through the defined process. If the applicant wants to take it all the way to the BCC for a vote they have that option. The staff can recommend denial but in the end the BCC makes the decision. If the staff recommends transmittal then it is purely based on consistency with the Comprehensive Plan. The staff looks at a boat load of criteria that has to be met and if every one is checked off then they find the application consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and will recommend transmittal. Recommending transmittal means it will go before the BCC for a vote for transmittal. This means the applications can move to the next step which is Adoption. If I were to sum up the role of the Orange County staff, it would be this statement that was told to me by one of the county staff. She said, “we are the guardians of the residents”. I liked that and I do believe this is their function and their job. I will say that the signing of the bill by the governor in 2011 made their job much harder and easier for developers to get developments through the system. But in the end they have to perform their job as defined and required by law.
Will the Woodbury extension be built?
Good question. First, only if the developments are approved. Without developer money it will never be built because the county doesn’t have the money to build it. Let’s establish that fact first. In fact if the developments are not approved you can say goodbye to any road improvements whatsoever as there is no money for road improvements and our roads are not even on the project chart or way down the list. And with this recent vote at MetroPlan, it will be even harder to get funding. Watch the video above to get the details.
The Woodbury extension is a new road that would go from the corner of Lake Pickett and Percival over to Woodbury and Challenger Pkwy. I think there is a very slim chance this will occur even if the developments are approved. This is based on a couple of facts. Eminent Domain would have to be used to buy houses and property to build the road. This is very expensive and a ball park estimate would be something around 20+ million for this road which includes buying property. I seriously doubt there is enough money being contributed by the applicants to pay for this road as well as all the other improvements necessary Let’s add things up. 20 million for Woodbury, 15 million for Lake Pickett, 10 million for 419, 10 million for McCulloch. We are at 55 million and that doesn’t even touch Hwy 50 which is a state road. Originally the developers were going to put in about 55 million but that was at higher densities than they have now so let’s say at the density they have now I would estimate 35 million. There is just not enough money to do all the work that needs to be done. Seeing Woodbury is so expensive and this idea very much disliked by the residents, I would think it might go by the wayside but the traffic presentation in a couple of weeks should reveal what the most likely course will be.
Will McCulloch be 4 laned?
McCulloch is a hot potato. It is on then it is off. About 15-20 years ago the county was going to 4 lane McCulloch from Dean all the way over to N. Tanner but the residents close to McCulloch and Rouse raised such a fuss that it was killed and in fact put on a “do not touch” list forever. It is still on the list even though it is on another list that says it should be 4 laned. As of right now it is untouchable. It will not be improved in any way. I can say for sure that the bridge across the Econ will not happen any time soon. That has been verified many times by county staff, our commissioner, the developers and just about anyone else I ask. That is off the table for now. But 4 laning McCulloch from Lockwood to N. Tanner is sort of on and off. Right now it is a no go but may be back on the table with the traffic study that is underway now. In any case, we will know soon enough what the recommendation will be when Orange County staff completes their study. My best guess will be it will be 4 laned.
Will Lake Pickett be 4 laned?
Again, it depends on if these developments go in. If the developments don’t happen, forget it. There is no money to do it. If the developments go in then my very clear vision tells me it will be 4 laned as shown on the diagram above. It has to be to support the traffic from LPN. There is just no other way to move traffic effectively to the west from LPN.
Will 419 be 4 laned?
Again, it depends on if these developments go in. If the developments don’t happen, forget it. There is no money to do it. But as Renzo Nastasi said in the May 12th meeting, it will only be 4 laned from Lake Pickett to Hwy 50. It will not be 4 laned from Lake Pickett to the county line.
Will Hwy 50 be 6 laned?
In time regardless of the developments. Construction is already underway from Dean to Old Cheney which also includes the bridge across the Econ. The bridge will be stripped for 4 lanes but will be built to handle 6 lanes so when the time comes it is ready. From Old Cheney to 520 is on the books to be done but currently unfunded so without these developments it is a long way off but at some point will be done. LPS has said they will front the money to 6 lane Hwy 50 from Old Cheney to 419 to accommodate their development. When I say front I mean loan the money to the state which will be paid back at some future date.
Will traffic ever be fixed out here?
My crystal ball tells me no in no uncertain terms if the developments are killed. If the developments do go in then it is questionable if there will be enough money to really make a difference. Again, we need to wait for the traffic study in a couple weeks. The cold hard facts are that Orange County doesn’t have any money to fix the roads and are turning to the only source they can to get money to build roads which is developers. Here is how it works whether we like it or not and when I say we I mean everyone including Orange County staff, the BCC and even the developers themselves. In this case the developers are being squeezed for every dollar that can possible come from them because Orange County knows how bad our traffic problem is and wants to fix it.
With the MetroPlan Board vote explained above we are in for a hard road. The only other option is a tax. Usually this is a 1 cent tax for a period of time but there are issues that go along with this. The biggest one being trust. If the taxes are collected how do we know our roads will be fixed and not spent on another part of the county. And politicians know they are not very popular and have traditionally shied away from this tax. It may be our only option out of this but it must be done in such a way that the roads the taxes are used on are clearly defined.
What does Seminole County think of all this?
Seminole County is very concerned with these developments. They want to remain rural in this area. There was a request by Seminole County to enter into a joint agreement of some sort with Orange County that did not materialize. View this video with Brenda Carey who is one of the Commissioners from Seminole County speaking about this at the Expressway Authority meeting. I think it sums up what Seminole County is thinking.
What happens on July 28th?
Maybe nothing if the deadline for the traffic study is not met. You can see the timeline on the right. We are in the community meeting part of the process and there is a traffic study from LPS that Orange County (OC) is waiting for. If the traffic study doesn’t come in time, there is a chance this will have to be pushed off to the next cycle. I don’t think LPS wants to wait so they will do all they can to get the traffic study to OC. But then staff has to review both LPN and LPS traffic studies and combine them into their traffic study to see if they can work. If they don’t feel it can adequately accomodate the traffic problems then they won’t recommend transmittal. This doesn’t mean the applications won’t go forward. The applicant themselves can force them forward without the consent of OC staff. If that happens the applications go to the LPA (Local Planning Agency) for review and approval or denial to go to the BCC. Even if the LPA denies the applications they can proceed to the BCC for approval or denial. The BCC can then approve or deny the applications for transmittal and this happens on July 28th.
What is transmittal?
Transmittal means the applications can enter the Adoption phase where the real work begins. This is where all of the different agencies get involved to ensure the developments meet their requirements. This includes agencies such as OCPS, Police, Fire, St. Johns and a myriad of other agencies. Each agency will look at the developments and make comments in their area of expertise. These comments go to staff and are compiled for the second go around. More community meetings but with much more detail and another vote by the BCC at a future date.
I hope this gives you some idea of what is going to happen and standing up in a meeting and just saying we don’t want these developments is not quite so simple. What is being heard is you want things to stay the same and you don’t want traffic fixed. That is what will happen. Orange County will hear loud and clear that you don’t want the developments and therefore you don’t want the traffic fixed. I don’t think that is what most people really want but that will be the end result, no fix for traffic.
I am just looking at this in a very pragmatic way. I am not behind the developer or the county or the residents or a faction such as SOC who strictly wants no change to the area which translates to no change to the roads. If that is what you want then be content sitting in traffic and be prepared to sit longer and longer as each day passes and the years go by. If you want traffic fixed then think about what has been written in this post.
My position is this. If these developers can help solve our traffic problem with the county and perhaps some other innovative ideas then I am all for and even a one cent gas tax if that means fixing our roads. But if these developments only add more traffic to our already congested roads then it is not a good option. I will trust the traffic experts at Orange County to come up with the right answers and do what they are supposed to do which is work for us.
I will be posting an email I sent to Orange County with a plan that I think will work. Keep in mind I am not a traffic expert and am only looking at this from what I know. I have already received some not so positive feedback on my ideas but that is exactly what we need to hear, the truth. We need to know what we are up against so we can work to fix it.
If you got down this far in this blog it must mean you are interested enough in these issues. I would encourage everyone to go to this next meeting with an open mind and not look on anyone as “the bad guy”. I think we are all in this together and it is together that we will come to a solution.