BY JENNIFER CABRERA
At the October 21 Gainesville City Commission, the commission voted to move forward with the construction of the SW 62nd Boulevard Connector, including spending about $862,500 to satisfy wetlands mitigation regulations, most of which will be reimbursed by the State.
The extension will be 1.1 miles in length with one lane in each direction, bike lanes, and a multi-use path. The project begins at SW 20th Avenue and runs alongside I-75 down to join Clark Butler Blvd at SW 42nd Street, with a bridge over Hogtown Creek.
The purpose of the project is to expand the roadway grid network and provide a full parallel facility to I-75 to disperse traffic across the roadway grid. It has been in the works for about 15 years.
The project has some wetlands impacts, which are regulated by St. Johns River Water Management District, and wetland buffer impacts are regulated by the State, County, and City; the County has the most stringent standards. The County’s standards increase the local cost of the project because the State does not recognize those costs as part of the local costs that can be paid with State funds.
The City evaluated 11 options for routes, but they all impacted wetlands. They attempted to mitigate wetlands and buffers on-site, but there wasn’t enough property available in the immediate area; also, some of the nearby property is under a conservation easement. Because the road is being built with federal funds, restrictions on the use of those funds limited the City to finding property in their existing inventory for potential wetland construction or restoration.
City staff brought a proposal to mitigate the wetlands by purchasing mitigation credits and achieve the wetland buffer mitigation by moving forward on the design and Phase 1 construction of the Biven’s Arm Wetland Boardwalk marsh restoration. Since the wetland mitigation is a State requirement, the mitigation credits will be reimbursable with FDOT grant funding, but since the buffer mitigation is a local requirement, local funds will need to pay for them. The Biven’s Arm project is currently partially funded (about $200,000 of the needed $300,000) with Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs budget allocations.
The regulations require the City to mitigate 11.2 acres of wetlands, which equates to 4.5 wetland mitigation credits at $125,000 per credit, or $562,500. The staff recommendation is to purchase these credits from the Mill Creek Mitigation Bank, which is in Marion County, about 3 miles outside of Alachua County.
For the wetland buffer mitigation, the staff recommendation is to spend $100,000 from gas tax funds to help fund the boardwalk wetland marsh restoration at Biven’s Arm Nature Park.
The road is scheduled to start construction in Fall 2022, with completion in Fall 2024.
Commissioner David Arreola made a motion to accept staff’s recommendation, which included adopting a resolution authorizing the City Manager to execute agreements with FDOT pertaining to the project; authorizing the City Manager to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with Alachua County for wetland and wetland buffer mitigation for the project; authorizing the City Manager to enter into a Sales Agreement with Mill Creek Mitigation Bank to purchase wetland mitigation credits; and accept the evaluation team’s ranking of the four most qualified firms for the construction and execute a contract for professional services with one of them. Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos seconded the motion.
The motion passed unanimously.