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Opinion
Sarasota Thursday, May 28, 2020 2 months ago

The city has big plans

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The city’s new transportation plan joins the list of long-range plans for water-sewer upgrades, parks and the Bay. From where will this $660 million come?
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

If money were no object, the “Sarasota in Motion” Transportation Master Plan, which was introduced at last week’s Sarasota City Commission meeting, would do much to enhance the city’s livability.

Stop here, and read through the 10 projects aside that the planning consultants at ADEAS and city staff listed in the 24-page master plan.

If you try to envision all of those projects completed, it would be hard to argue against them. We would take exception to a few, but overall, they would transform much of the city’s aesthetics fort the better.

City staff said the master plan largely reflected the feedback they received from city residents. The plan shows the city receiving about 5,000 responses at community workshops, in surveys and online, and one of the prevalent themes was residents want to drive less.

No surprise there. It’s probably not far-fetched to say everyone would like to drive less. But at some point, you also must be practical.

Nevertheless, the consultants and city staff clearly tilted the plan toward pedestrians, bicycles, trails and other noncar modes. Their vision is for these 10 prioritized projects to be completed over the next 25 years, funded largely by local gas-tax revenues, city impact fees and state and federal funds.

To be sure, however, this master plan is not a done deal.

Last week’s presentation to the commission was only the introduction for what will be many more discussions before anything is codified. Indeed, Commissioner Hagen Brody will see to that, and rightly so.

When given his cue to speak, Brody said: “This report is light on actionable plans to improve car traffic and increase capacity as our whole entire region grows. It’s great you’re talking about bike paths, sidewalks and streetscapes, but quite frankly, we could have done that in-house. We didn’t need to spend $500,000 on a consultant to do that.”

Brody also asked: Why didn’t the master plan incorporate the work of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization?

Great question.

Long-range master plans are the MPO’s forte. The MPO is teeming with them:

  • The Sarasota-Manatee 2045 Long-Range Transportation Plan. This plan addresses everything throughout the region — roads, bicycles, pedestrians, trails, transit, parking, railroads and airports, and it does so for every municipality in the two-county region.

When you read the LRTP’s plans for the city, they’re similar to the newly written master plan. (Brody was right: Why spend another $500,000?)

  • The Active Transportation Plan. This one focuses on the state of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in the two counties and, according to the MPO, “serve[s] as a road map for developing a multimodal bicycle and pedestrian facility network to connect key destinations, transit services and the Shared-Use Nonmotorized Trail network.”
  • The U.S. 41 Multi-Modal Emphasis Corridor report. Talk about an exhaustive report, this one focuses on how to improve U.S. 41 — for cars, bikes and pedestrians — from Palmetto to Charlotte County.

Here’s the point: When you put the city’s new master plan into the context of transportation planning regionwide and the city’s many other specific priorities, if you’re a member of the City Commission, you likely would be asking questions similar to Brody’s.

Look at this transportation master plan in the larger context of the city’s activities:

  • A 25-year master sidewalk and streetscape plan whose price tag wasn’t documented but will be tens of millions;
  • A 10-year parks plan estimated at $35 million;
  • A 10-year water and sewer upgrade plan estimated at $300 million;
  • The Bay Park, all phases estimated at more than $200 million, and not including a new performing arts center; and
  • And unfunded city-employee pension liabilities of $128.5 million.

That’s $663 million, not counting the transportation master plan or a new performing arts hall.

One might ask these two questions: 1) From whom will all this money come? and 2) What, specifically, is the plan?

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