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Gainesville traffic plan’s cost: $235.2 million

Consultant discusses recommended city projects with focus group

POSTED: September 5, 2013 11:10 p.m.

A slate of recommended projects aimed at improving Gainesville’s transportation picture now has a price tag: $235.2 million.

Norcross-based Pond & Co., the city’s consultant on a transportation master plan, presented a list of projects based on three time frames, or tiers — 2013-20, 2021-30 and 2031-40 — to a focus group Thursday night at the Fair Street Neighborhood Center.

The focus group, made up of city residents charged with giving a nongovernmental perspective to the plan’s development, suggested moving some projects around and, in some cases, making them a higher priority.

“This list is not set in stone,” said Chris Rotalsky, Gainesville’s assistant public works director, as the group began discussions.

Focus group members said they believed, for example, that projects involving Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Enota Avenue should be done sooner than later.

Richard Fangmann of Pond said he recommended the city trying to do some cheaper intersection improvements, along with some signal operation fixes, early in the process.

Pond now plans to solidify the list based on public input, which also includes comments from community meetings held through the summer and results of an online survey.

The plan will go this fall to the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, Hall County’s lead planning agency, where it will be considered as part of next year’s update of the 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan.

“The caveat here is that the regional plan has to be financially constrained, meaning that you can include only so many projects for which there is money available in the next 20-30 years,” Sam I. Baker, the MPO’s senior transportation planner, told the group.

“Here, Gainesville will have to compete with Flowery Branch, Oakwood and Hall County for federal funding.”

The current 2040 plan features $2.2 billion in funded projects and another $775 million in projects “without an identified funding source.”

Baker said, however, “there are some things the city of Gainesville can do right away.”

He said the city could approach the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which provides grants and loans for improvement projects, “and there is money available right now.”

“You can apply for the money tomorrow,” he said.

“There is a window open between now and Oct. 31 to apply for grants and loans. The money is awarded on a competitive basis, but you can apply for it. So, for tier one projects, those low-hanging fruits, I would suggest that you ... apply for some of those low-cost projects.”

Grants don’t require a local match, Baker said.

“It would be nice to have some match — it would make your project more competitive — but it is not required,” he said.

According to the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank’s website, 16 community improvement districts and local governments have received nearly $20 million since 2010 to support more than $113 million in transportation improvements.

The bank “is an exciting new funding resource for government entities whose eligible projects may be limited by traditional funding sources,” the website states.

“There are many different options that the city can consider funding (projects),” said Michelle Alexander, who serves in planning/community involvement for Pond.

“And I promise you that (city) staff researches every ounce of those,” Gainesville City Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras said. “They will look for whatever they can get.”

“That’s why having a plan like this is a good starting point,” said the city’s traffic engineer, Dee Taylor.

Rotalsky said, “Every time we go for any type of funding, we show in our application that we have done due diligence. We have put these things through a thorough testing matrix, that we’re not just dreaming up some concept.”

Figueras referred to Mayor Danny Dunagan’s push for a transportation master plan, which came after regional voters turned down a 1-percent sales tax for transportation in July 2012.

“When the T-SPLOST came ... we did not have a solid plan that was done by professionals,” she said. “We needed the plan so that we could have evidence of the fact that these things need to be done.”


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