BOCC: Change rules to alleviate traffic woes

By Steve Estes

The Florida Department of Transportation Wednesday told the Monroe Board of County Commissioners that it plans to spend almost $148 million in transportation projects here over the next five years.

But few of those projects will address the county’s declining level of vehicular service.

In the FDOT plan are $35.5 million in resurfacing projects and $19.75 million in bridge repair and rehabilitation projects, as well as several million in funds for the completion of the Overseas Heritage Trail, and nearly $50 million in airport improvements.

Raj Shanmugam, the county’s traffic engineer consultant, said that the declining level of service isn’t something that has just happened.

“The segments that are borderline today, have been areas of concern for the last 10 years. And they will be areas of concern for the next 10 years,” he said.

But he also told the commission that it wasn’t time to panic because the overall LOS in the county could survive another 20 years before it started to affect building.

“The county needs growth to survive, and the highway can sustain that growth,” he said.

But individual segments of the road are approaching concerning levels, says Growth Management Director Christine Hurley.

So Shanmugam and county staff presented the BOCC with some potential fixes for LOS issues.

Those suggestions included working with FDOT to better time and synchronize traffic lights already in place, as well as discouraging the installation of any more traffic lights.

Staff also suggested improving access to county roads to help take local traffic off the highway, making it possible for locals to traverse their islands without the need to US 1 for a main street in every instance.

That raised the specter of the cross-island road fight on Big Pine Key years ago when the planning department suggested paving Lytton’s as across-island artery.

That notion was quickly quashed by Mayor George Neugent.

“As long as I’m on this commission, Lytton’s Way will never again come to the board,” said Neugent.

The county at one time had obtained easements for the length of Lytton’s Way, a gravel road that spans Big Pine from the back of Tropical Key Colony on the west to the Avenues section on the east.

The plan was to pave the road and complete a cross-island road to get traffic off the highway. Public outcry halted that process.

But even though that route might be off the table, Hurley said there are still potential routes that can be used that bypass the western segment of Lytton’s Way.

Hurley also said that she wanted approval from the board to look into changing the way the county computes LOS from segment based to overall county LOS.

“Our code says that if a segment dips below established LOS, we should not issue building permits,” she said. “What I don’t want to have happen is that we have to declare a moratorium on a certain segment for a residential permit, while we can issue large development permits in other areas.”

Hurley suggested that the commission look at changing the LOS calculation so that an overall level of C would meet criteria, but that critical segments continue to be analyzed for developments that require a development order that might trigger a segment-based traffic flow issue.

She has that issue to contend with right now with development plans for a shopping center on Rockland Key where a critical LOS segment exists at the Big Coppitt bridge link.

She said that the new policy would force the developer to address traffic concurrency, and perhaps the county could look at ways to require the developers, in any instance, not just the Rockland Key proposal, to be part of the traffic solution.

The commission agreed with those suggestions and asked for a report at a later date.

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