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Transportation summit addresses Gainesville’s road issues

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A Wednesday community transportation summit, held by the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners, served as a chance for the public to express opinions about transportation.

Multiple groups and organizations like the Gainesville Cycling Club and the League of Women Voters sent representatives to speak on their behalf.

The five-hour information session at the Gainesville/Alachua County Senior Recreation Center began with an overview of Alachua County transportation. County officials then opened up to comments by predetermined representatives.

Different public organizations, including the Builders Association and also Alachua County residents, spoke on what is needed as far as road repairs, transit systems, bike/pedestrian paths and the funding needed to serve these plans.

Alachua County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson described the public turnout to the summit as “phenomenal,” saying more chairs were needed soon after doors opened. He said this reflected how important transportation funding is to the community.

Hutchinson explained the necessities he felt the county needed to address.

“We need a much better transit system,” Hutchinson said. “Particularly one that serves the outlying areas, that serves the East side and that connects to all the new developments that the county has already approved.”

Gainesville City Commissioner Lauren Poe agreed with Hutchinson, and said it was good to hear from individual citizens and community groups. Poe said he liked hearing what changes need to be made in order to get a solution passed in 2014.

“I think there is universal agreement that the county has a serious road repair deficit,” Poe said. “But the city is very supportive of efforts that would help them gain the funds to close that gap.”

Poe said unlike the county, the city doesn’t have a huge road problem, but it does have a problem moving people around.

During the summit, county officials gave an overview of how a transportation tax would help the community. The primary focus was on improving roads before they become too damaged, improving conditions with the bus transit system and ideas to create a bus rapid transit system or “BRT.” This would link key regional areas such as the Oaks Mall and UF&Shands.

Gainesville City Commissioner Todd Chase said public input is most important because the county is ultimately asking for residents to impose a tax on themselves. Chase said he wants to balance funding to make it serve the people’s best interest.

“I’m not as concerned about expanding bike lanes as much as I am about making them safer,” Chase said. “We’ve got a lot of disjointed bike routes around town, so we need to start focusing on making a couple key routes contiguous and safer.”

Alachua County hopes to put the transportation tax up for a vote in 2014. The tax will be a maximum of 1 cent.

Gainesville City Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls said she identifies with the public. She said she understands some people don’t want a surtax but what the summit shows is that a tax is necessary.

A follow-up meeting will be held on June 4.

Rebekah Geier wrote this story online.

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