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Alachua County’s road renovation 10-year plan, explained

Paul Saunders says he isn’t the type of person to regularly engage in local government, but he’s also not the type of person to enjoy driving around potholes.

He and his wife both vote every year, but their political involvement usually stops there. However, Saunders recently felt compelled to reach out to Alachua County commissioner Anna Prizzia about the state of the main road near his house, Southwest 170th Street.

Southwest 170th Street is a county road in the southwest corner of Alachua County. It stretches from the Levy County line all the way up to Northwest 46th Avenue, north of Jonesville. Saunders lives toward the middle of the road, just south of Southwest 46th Avenue. He said the road’s current condition is almost undrivable.

Saunders said the county does its best to patch the potholes, but his real issue is with the sides of the road.

“The north and the southbound lane, the road is rutted. And so it's basically got a trough that collects rainwater when it rains hard, and turns into a very dangerous hydroplaning issue,” he said.

He said drivers overcompensate for this issue in dangerous ways.

“Because of the ruts and the bumps and the potholes, people tend to hug the centerline. And then in some instances, people drive right up to the road,” Saunders said. “I do it myself frequently if there's no traffic that I can see, you know, clearly in front of me. I'll go right across into the middle of the road and drive out there rather than in the appropriate lane. So it creates kind of a safety hazard.”

Watch above: The view from a car driving down Southwest 170th Street in Alachua County. (Kristin Moorehead/WUFT News)

Saunders said when he first moved to Alachua County four years ago, he was told his road was scheduled to be repaved in 2023. That repaving was delayed until 2024 due to COVID-19. However, in 2023, the county rolled out its new comprehensive improvement plan, and Saunders was surprised to find his road had been pushed back to 2029.

“In the brief time we've been here, the plans have changed three times that we know of,” he said. “It's going to continue to get worse. And so they're patching the potholes, but that doesn't solve the problem of the hydroplaning.”

The change was due to the county’s recent voter-approved infrastructure surtax, an additional half cent tax added to the existing Wild Spaces Public Places tax. Seventy percent of the new half cent was dedicated to road improvements, with the other 30% going towards affordable housing.

When the surtax was approved, the county hired independent consultants to determine the order of road improvements, with more demanding issues at the top of the list. As a nuclear consultant himself, Saunders said he understands there are limitations to fixing problems.

“I understand the constraints. I don't understand the logic behind the consultants that they hired to do these evaluations,” he said.

Ramon Gavarrete is the county’s public works director. He said a lot of thought went into the county’s plan to renovate its roads. According to Gavarrete, the county’s roads were 30 years overdue for renovations, but a lack of funding prevented any major work from being done. Before the county voters passed the infrastructure surtax, he said, roads that were technically scheduled for renovation had no funding allocated to them, including Saunders’ Southwest 170th Street.

“You know, there's a belief that gas tax should pay for everything. And unfortunately, gas tax barely pays for operations, for maintenance, barely pays for me, for example. So over the years, unfortunately, there was lack of funding,” Gavarrete said.

Gavarrete estimates the total cost to fix every road in the county in 10 years would be around $55 million each year. The roads portion of the infrastructure surtax totals about $12 million a year. Combined with additional funding sources from the gas tax, county general funds from property taxes and federal and state grants, Gavarrete’s total budget for fixing county roads is $25 million a year, less than half of what is needed to fix every road.

See above: Alachua County's interactive road improvement plan map, found on the county's website. (Courtesy of Alachua County).

In order to decide which roads to fix, Gavarrete said the county’s hired consultants used a number of criteria including pavement condition, traffic volume and something called “areas of inequity”. The consultants drove on every mile of the county’s 700 miles of paved road and prioritized roads in poor condition, heavily trafficked and in disadvantaged communities based on census data.

He said roads with similar pavement conditions may have been prioritized differently.

“The traffic volumes in County Road 235A are a lot less, I want to say about 70% less, than the traffic on Northwest 98th Street. So what road got selected? Northwest 98th Street and not County Road 235A.”

In addition to repaving roads, the surtax allowed the county to allocate money to maintain the condition of newly-paved roads, in something called “rejuvenation.”

“The plan is to have good asphalt, not just for 15 years, but to have good asphalt for about 30 years,” Gavarrete said.

Saunders said after he emailed Prizzia, she responded soon after and connected him with Gavarrete, who explained the situation . He said, “quite frankly I’m surprised, but I’m also really happy” with the county’s quick response to his concerns. However, he still disagrees with the order of the comprehensive improvement plan.

“I went to the commissioners and I'm happy, I'm very happy with their response. I'm just not happy with the way that the roads were prioritized,” Saunders said.

But Gavarrete said the county is doing the best it can with the resources it has.

“What I need to tell people, we are heading in the right direction. Yes, I wish we had more funding, but at the same time, I'm excited that we have the funding that we have now that we did not have two years ago,” he said.

The county’s full comprehensive improvement plan can be viewed on the county website, and through an interactive road map of the county. There, residents can click on specific roads to see if and what year they’re slated for repair, as well as what type of repair will be done and where the funding is coming from.

Kristin is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing