Lee County officials are finding it difficult to fund three major road projects and do them concurrently to satisfy the municipalities that are affected.
Last week, during a Management & Planning meeting, Lee County Board of County Commissioners listened to a presentation by County Department of Transportation Director David Loveland regarding an adoption process of its Capital Improvement Plan for the upcoming budget for fiscal year 2013-14.
Loveland is trying to prioritize three major road projects as well as gas tax spending, while checking to see if impact fees may be of use on the off-Beach projects. Currently, three key projects funded for construction of primary concern were highlighted for discussion: four lanes on Alico Road; Estero Boulevard re-construction, which had Phase I added last year; and Homestead Road four-lane construction.
After the meeting, Commissioner Larry Kiker stated he does not "necessarily agree" with the way that Loveland is "lining up the funding" and "the priorities he has come up with."His understanding was that Estero Boulevard was the top priority since all of the prep work for that project has been completed, while Alico Road and Homestead Road are still in the planning stages.
"There appears to be a shift in priorities," said Kiker, who stated it first got his attention during a joint session between Town and County in February. "With reserve dollars gone, there is going to be a different kind of conversation. There are different ways to 'finance' these projects, including general funds."
Kiker referenced the 2012 joint meeting between the two governmental agencies when, as Beach mayor, he thought Loveland was given direction by the BOCC members to "reprioritize things to make Estero Boulevard happen"with an understanding the Town had gone to a referendum for water system replacement for an "uninterrupted"project.
"I guess that discussion has to happen again," said Kiker.
Kiker also referenced an interlocal agreement the Town drew up and sent to the County attorney's office. That ILA was left unsigned when County officials would not agree with Town provisions allowing enhancements to the boulevard.
In his workshop presentation, Loveland said his department is looking to potentially add Phase II of the Estero Boulevard re-construction in the CIP budget update for this coming fiscal year. Yet, he stated Alico Road funding is priority No. 1, with $8.35 million allocated in third year of construction phase. Preliminary design work has been completed and will be brought to BOCC for adoption. DOT is looking to move into the design phase in the upcoming year with a construction timing of 2015-16.
Estero Boulevard was cited as being in the middle of the spread sheet. Loveland stated segment 1 is slated for construction in 2013-14 and segment 2 construction would follow four years later. The gap includes 1-1/2 to two years to do the first segment.
"We are able to add design work for segment 2 in 2016-17 and construction for that segment in 2017-18, which would be the fifth year," he said at the M&P meeting. He asked if that timing is appropriate from the board's perspective and hinted as to the Alico Road job being more important for the businesses.
"Based on this, we do have over $15 million funded towards segment 1 and 2 for Estero Boulevard re-construction. However they are not concurrent, which was an interest that was expressed at the joint meeting with the Town of Fort Myers Beach," he said.
Loveland mentioned the gap between segment 1 and 2. He explained his thinking and reasoning behind the method.
"It would be possible to move segment 2 up with design in the second year and construction in the third year, so that it runs more concurrently right behind segment 1 reconstruction. But, in order to do that, I would have to move the Alico Road four-lane construction from the third year to the fifth year," he explained.
Loveland asked the commissioners if Estero Boulevard was the most important priority, he could keep the funding going and fund a segment 3 with design for the fourth year and construction for the fifth year. To do that, he would have to drop the funding for the Alico Road construction all the way out of the five-year window.
Gas tax dollars were noted to fund both projects.
"I am using gas tax money for Alico because all of the impact fee money in that district right now goes to debt service for property acquisition in the past for our internal loan program," he said. "I am using gas tax money for Estero Boulevard because it is a reconstruction and not adding roadway capacity, which makes it more suitable for gas tax funding instead of impact fee funding."
Loveland stated he could use a portion of impact fee funding for such sub-projects on that road like bike lanes. Impact fees will be looked into more.
Commissioner John Manning said, "from an investment standpoint, Alico Road will return a great deal more than any other roadway that the county is looking at for short-term construction." He expanded on that thought.
"We have to coordinate land use planning and transportation planning," he said. "We have to do a better job at doing that more thoroughly and give credits and development incentives for in-fill development. If I can get a return on investment from a construction or roadway segment that is going to lead to commercial, industrial and research development, I am going to vote for that."
Pendergrass believes rewards will come from adjustment of the impact fee decision that BOCC agreed upon, and that it will help in the growth around the Alico corridor.
Commissioner Tammy Hall stated "what's important on Estero is the infrastructure." She also expounded on her thinking.
"Timing is important. We don't want to tear up Estero (Boulevard) twice," she said. "We are looking to keep these projects on schedule and get the financing for them."
Kiker, a Beach business owner, alluded to a newspaper heading from 1961 about the BOCC committed to fixing Estero Boulevard. He also touched on allowing municipalities to be the leaders for upcoming projects in their region.
"There are unique ways of doing business differently, so that people can move forward with their own priorities in their own municipalities," he said. "I think you will see the same kind of creativity out of Fort Myers Beach. Maybe we need to pay attention to some of their options and see what they can bring to the board."
Infrastructure sales tax may be looked into for revenue for the projects.
Kiker mentioned that Beach officials have committed $18 million to infrastructure on the Beach. A start-stop-start project will not help Beach officials in their pursuit of replacing a decrepit water system
"How do you stop putting in a water system? How do you replace a pipe and wait three years to replace more? It doesn't make a lot of sense," Kiker said. "I think planning needs to be adjusted to that. We may need to give up a little bit of control and get a lot back. It's OK not to control everything."
Kiker believes the prioritization needs attention and hopes to look into it while designing a County budget process, a task given to him by the consensus of BOCC members.
"We are putting together an 18-month look at financing rather than just trying to make ends meet this year," he said.