The Florida Department of Transportation works in mysterious ways. And sometimes in arbitrary ways. Both manners were apparent when a pair of transportation officials unveiled a proposed five-year plan of major state projects for the county before Flagler County commissioners Monday morning. The commissioners were not impressed.
Funding for the planned Matanzas Woods interchange with I-95 didn’t make the top of the list of priorities (again). It did come in a respectable second, but not with the kind of funding the county was looking for, and not for another three years. The state appears ready to spend $5 million for designing the interchange, but not before 2014, and only for design. By then the county plans to be done with the design phase, which may cost no more than a fifth of the amount the state is proposing to budget. Commissioners want the remaining $4 million shifted to construction costs. That would be a big saving for county dollars. The state’s response?
“I can request it, but I can’t approve it right now,” the DOT’s Mary Schoevel told commissioners. She could not explain how, after so many local, regional and state advisory meetings, the project still ended up out of sync with county needs. That rankled County Commissioner Milissa Holland, whose answer to a presentation listing the state’s nine priorities for Flagler was a verbal head shake: “I don’t know where to start. This is interesting,” Holland said, citing the numerous advisory boards and panels she participates in, only to see those collective efforts dismissed by the state when the time comes for listing priorities. “Is there a coordinated effort at all? Because I sit in these meetings and it seems like—to be honest with you, it seems like a big waste of time at times because everybody is planning and when it comes to funding, obviously that’s a different discussion.”
Making matters more difficult was the state’s apparent lack of documented preparation: Schoevel and her sidekick, Steve Friedel, had nothing written to present to the commissioners. That didn’t sit well with Holland, either.
“You’re here today, we don’t have anything in front of us to really kind of review, so we do the presentation, and you guys go home, and we’re stuck with a crisis situation because of our Matanzas interchange, where that’s a significant safety issue in our community,” Holland said. “So we have these state plans, then we have the regional plans, and then we have our local plans, and you can understand it becomes frustrating at times when the moneys being allocated in a process in which we have very little outcomes—serving on this board for four years I can tell you we’ve been talking about Matanzas interchange for longer than four years. That’s been an ongoing issue.” When Holland asked what Flagler could do to influence more beneficial results, Schoevel’s response was a standard invitation to make comments through the website, make a phone call, set up a meeting.
The strange process through which the state arrives at its list of priorities got even stranger when Schoevel revealed that “we were still making changes last night, you know, so we added a couple of projects onto Flagler last night so we couldn’t give you a presentation as far as maps or anything like that. As soon as we do get the work program locked down we can provide those maps to you so you’ll know where these projects are.”
That startled Commissioner Barbara Revels. “It’s interesting that you said you were making changes as late as last night, on a Sunday night. That seems so arbitrary.”
“It’s true though,” Schoevel said. “And the reason for that is because when we started doing our work program, if there are other funds that are not being used in a different state or a different county or a different district, you know, the first district that says yeah, I’ve got projects that we can do, that’s the district who gets the funding.” Still: on a Sunday night?
Friedel kicked off the presentation by outlining the state’s process and describing it as a tentative work program for 2012-16. Ultimately, it’s the Legislature’s and the governor’s decision to include or exclude projects. The governor can line-item veto specific projects if he so chooses. But the list the Legislature and the governor will see won;t be finalized until after March. The Florida Transportation Commission and the Department of Community Affairs review the proposals and hold a public hearing in Tallahassee on March 8 (at the Burns Building, 605 Sewanee Street). Local residents can have their voices heard at a public hearing in Volusia County on Tuesday Dec. 14, at the transportation department’s district office in DeLand (719 South Woodland Boulevard) at 6 p.m.
This is the list of priorities the transportation department came up with (with Flagler’s priorities in parentheses):
1. Palm Coast Parkway six-laning (from four lanes) from Boulder Rock Drive to Florida Park Drive. The department would add $4 million to the project in 2013. (County priority: 1)
2. Matanzas Woods Parkway interchange with I-95. The department would fund the design phase in 2014 for $5 million. (County priority: 2)
3. County Road 13, between County Road 205 and U.S. 1, widening and resurfacing. The department would fund the design phase in 2015 for $243,000, and contribute $3.5 million for construction in 2016. (County priority: 3)
4. State Road 100 and U.S. 1 connector by-pass. The department would fund the environmental study phase in 2011 for $675,000. (County priority: 8)
5. State Road 100 from I-95 to Belle Terre Parkway, widened to four lanes a few years ago, would be widened yet again: the department would fund an environmental study phase in 2013 for $800,000. (County priority: 12)
6. In Bunnell, Railroad Street improvement from Woodland Avenue to Elm Avenue: the department would fund the environmental study phase in 2013 for $828,000. (County priority: 13)
7. Safety project from County Road 305 from 2.5 miles south of State Road 100. The department would advance the construction phase of the section from 2013 to 2012, and fund it at $2.2 million. The department would also advance the section from 7.16 mile south of SR 100 from 2015 to 2014. The cost would be $5.3 million. (County priority not provided.)
8. Old Kings Road extension in Palm Coast, from Forest Grove Drive to Old Kings Road. In 2013, the department would fund the design phase for $1.35 million. In addition, the department would contribute $2 million for the 2013 design phase of the widening of Old Kings Road North (from Farragut Drive to Forest Grove Drive). (County priority: 4)
9. Whiteview Parkway Overpass by I-95, a connector-bypass project with Palm Coast. The department would fund the environmental phase in 2015 for $350,000. (County priority: 10)
Diplomatically, County Administrator Craig Coffee thanked the state officials and their proposal, including the money for the top two projects. “Everything like that is great and that’s going to help minimize our local–we may get back to you for more money on Matanzas because I think that’s only a partial funding of that particular item,” Coffey said, adding: “What you picked is some of the projects that may be are enhancement type projects versus safety and capacity projects, and that’s a concern. If you guys can somehow look at that again in this plan and see if you can stick to that in the future more, that would be more helpful for us.”