Gainesville’s University Avenue Redesign Initiative Faces Roadblocks

The recent deaths of two University of Florida students on West University Avenue in Gainesville have pushed residents to demand action from government officials to improve traffic safety in the area. In response, the City of Gainesville has petitioned the State of Florida to transfer jurisdiction of West University Avenue from the Florida Department of Transportation to Gainesville itself, but the transfer has yet to take place.

The exact procedure for jurisdictional transfer of roads from the State of Florida to a municipal government entity are laid out in Florida’s state laws, however, issues have arisen from the procedures entanglement with the Interstate Highway System.

University Avenue is part of Florida’s state highway system, and because the state must legally maintain a contiguous connection to the highway network, it cannot easily transfer the road over to the city. If University Avenue was to be removed as a state road, FDOT would need to find alternative state roads to reroute the existing highway network.

Adding to the frustration of local officials is the apparent inaction and noncommittal response at the state level to the city’s requests. City Commissioner David Arreola outlined a process that local leaders have engaged with to petition the state for funding, yet their funding petitions languished in waiting. University Avenue has been the city’s top priority for years, which makes the project more likely to receive funding, yet the FDOT has yet to answer.

“FDOT’s involvement has been encouraging,” Arreola said. “But these aren’t the first people to die on that roadway.”

Calling FDOT’s involvement “long overdue,” Arreola expressed frustration with the problems arising from what he believes is a neglectful approach toward the roads and the safety of Gainesville residents. A lack of state funding was also cited as an obstacle facing the road redesign efforts. The city has been able to bear the burden of everyday maintenance and occasional upgrades of University Avenue, but a complete redesign is outside the scope of feasibility from the city’s perspective.

Despite these obstacles, city officials and the FDOT have agreed on the schematics of the new road design. FDOT representatives highlighted the biggest issue from their perspective: excessive familiarity and comfort on the part of drivers.

Since University Avenue was designed as part of the Interstate Highway System, slowing and stopping are encouraged to happen only at red lights. This “highway feel” of the road combined with the sheer volume of daily traffic and lack of visible speed limit signs has resulted in lax observation and enforcement of the speed limit. Arreola expressed similar concerns, especially with the lack of posted signage.

Additionally, Arreola pointed out the growth of the City of Gainesville as yet another contributor to the traffic issues on University Avenue. Gainesville has grown considerably larger since the construction of the Interstate Highway system, specifically in the area surrounding University Avenue, yet the road is not designed with pedestrians or cyclists in mind.

The redesigned road aims to address these issues by building speed tables, lowering the speed limit from 30 to 25 mph, and redrawing crosswalks to make them more prominent and encourage safe driving behavior.

City Commissioners Adrian Hayes-Santos and Harvey Ward expressed that the original plan’s parameters weren’t large enough, an opinion with which Arreola agreed.

“For me, it’s not enough,” Arreola said, going on to argue that “[t]he most successful traffic safety design ever is the school zone: clear indications and flashing lights that can and should be implemented here.”

It is unclear when negotiations with the FDOT will be finished, but Arreola remains optimistic in light of recent successes. He credits the persistent voice of the Gainesville community for getting the University Avenue project this far but calls for a synthesis between local and state governments to realize their goal.

Featured image: University Ave and Buckman Dr intersection. Image taken by Rayan Jean-Francois.

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.        

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