In order to represent the small cities of Alachua County on M.T.P.O. issues, Rural Advisor John Martin drives from Hawthorne to Gainesville. According to Martin, getting to Gainesville is the easy part.
"Most of them would agree that the biggest problem they have is once they get into Gainesville getting around," Martin, also a Hawthorne City Commissioner, said.
Others agree, traffic congestion is at an all-time high, especially along Archer and Newberry roads.
"We really have doubled the number of drivers and the number of vehicles in the last 20 or so years," Sen. Steve Oelrich said. "We basically have the same road system we had back then."
A perimeter road or beltway around Gainesville is a possible solution, according to Oelrich. Beltways have been used in many cities throughout the United States - including Jacksonville and Atlanta - in hopes of easing congestion. Alachua County Commissioner Mike Byerly said he has seen those cities both before and after, and beltways are not always a solution.
"Before we invest all of our traffic dollars into a solution like that, one that's going to have a lot of unintended consequences, we need to make sure we thoroughly explore some of the other options," Byerly warned.
The county currently has approximately $400 million worth of traffic projects proposed but only $40 million available. The study Oelrich proposed could cost anywhere between $200,000 and $300,000. The cost for an actual beltway has not been determined yet.
"To do this, we may either have to have all or part of this on a toll system," Oelrich said.
There could be positives to a beltway, such as reduced fuel consumption, less pollution and shorter commutes, but after 32 years, many were looking for alternatives that will still be considered progressive 50 years from now, such as rapid transit busing and light rail systems.
"I applaud Sen. Oelrich for trying to solve the problem, but my gut feeling tells me that this is something that time has passed on," Martin said.
Still Oelrich, his staff and Florida Department of Transportation staff will present a more formal proposal for the planning study at the next M.T.P.O. meeting on September 20, 2007.
By Ted Latiak, WCJB TV20 News.
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