HomeLocal governmentJoint meeting between Alachua County and City of Newberry leads to goal of exchanging land for CR 337 repairs
Joint meeting between Alachua County and City of Newberry leads to goal of exchanging land for CR 337 repairs
July 12, 2023
BY AMBER THIBODAUX
NEWBERRY, Fla. – The City of Newberry and the Alachua County Commission met jointly on Monday, July 10, to negotiate the terms of an interlocal agreement between the two commissions; the agreement would establish an environmental park in Newberry via a license for the County to use approximately 22 acres owned by the City of Newberry in exchange for a complete revamp of County Road 337, which runs north/south along the western boundary of Alachua County. The environmental park includes three potential projects: a solid waste collection facility, a fire training facility, and a meat processing facility.
All agree that CR 337 needs improvement
County Commission Chair Anna Prizzia told the board that the issues surrounding CR 337 have been known for a long time: “This was one of the very first things that came up to me as a commissioner, literally; I got elected, and–337. And it hasn’t stopped since I got here.” Prizzia said she drove the road days after her election and later acknowledged that the condition of the road is “deplorable.”
Substandard pavement conditions and two dangerous curves have caused dozens of crashes over the years, with many ending in fatalities. The lanes are currently only 9 feet wide, rather than the minimum standard of 11 feet required by code. Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe argued that the project is long overdue and referred to it as “the most dangerous road in the county” in a prior social media post.
“From Newberry’s standpoint, we are offering what I think is a sizeable donation of value of land to partner with three projects that the County has come to us and expressed desire in pursuing… Newberry’s request is pretty simple – move the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) for 337 from 2030 to 2026, make sure that we’re widening the lanes and that we’re addressing the curves,” Marlowe said.
Marlowe told the board he wants to ensure that those terms are written into a contract in return for the land donation. The original CIP only provides for resurfacing and widening of the lanes, and the project wasn’t scheduled to begin until 2030, but Marlowe pointed out that if the curves aren’t addressed, it would create an even more dangerous situation because “the only thing that slows down traffic now is the poor condition of the road.”
Alachua County’s Pavement Management Program
Alachua County Public Works Director Ramon Gavarrete gave the commissions an update on Alachua County’s Pavement Management Program that included the County’s formula for how it prioritizes road maintenance and options for available funding.
Roadway projects are funded primarily via property taxes but also include funds from the Infrastructure Surtax (70% of half of the County’s portion of the funds), grants, the 5-cent local option gas tax, and impact fees. The new surtax, passed last November by the voters, will generate approximately $11.7 million per year for roads, and the County’s general fund contributes an additional $8 million per year.
The County uses optimization software to create a management plan that “best prioritizes the timing and location of road paving throughout the county.” Several factors are considered, including the condition of each county road and traffic volume. The County also uses what it refers to as “historic inequity” as a major weighting factor that influences the output of the pavement management program and determines which roads are prioritized. According to the agenda posted on the County website, the parameters used to determine historic inequity are:
U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Qualified Census Tracts;
Census Tracts with median income less than 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline;
Properties with residential improvement values in the bottom 20 percent, with an added buffer of 1,320 feet around those houses.
The language in the agenda further explains: “Alachua County is one of only a few communities in the country using equity data in this way. The application of this data to the pavement management system allows the county to ensure more equitable outcomes in planning for infrastructure and ensures funding will address the needs of historically disadvantaged communities.”
Alachua County is the only county in Florida to include the “historical inequity” factor in its pavement management system.
“We are weighting those roadways that are in areas of inequity [in the county] by an additional 40 percent, and that’s where a lot of these roads got included,” Gavarrete told the board. “The board decided that $750,000 a year was going to be dedicated toward residential roads in areas of inequity, and all that was thrown into this blender, the program spits out an output, and it got reviewed by staff.”
He later clarified, however, that once staff calculated all costs associated with those added roadways in the areas of inequity, the projected cost increased to $7.9 million over 10 years, which Gavarrete pointed out was “slightly more than $750,000 a year when you do the math.” He presented a map highlighting the areas of inequity in the county that would receive the extra weighting.
“All on the east side of town”
Newberry Commissioner Mark Clark pointed out that the areas highlighted on the map were “all on the east side of town” and said that he felt that roads in the western portion of the county are neglected.
It is worth noting that among the five county districts, Districts 2 and 3 have the highest property tax burdens, the primary source of funding for roads. Both districts are located in the western part of the county, including the city of Newberry.
Gavarrete acknowledged that the board receives emails and phone calls on a regular basis about the poor condition of county roads and said that staff prioritizes roads with 15 or more work orders to ensure that they are included in the software program; however, he said that the County Commission instructed its staff to give an extra 40% weight to residential roads in areas of inequity.
Marlowe informed Gavarrete that the city of Newberry frequently fills potholes on County-owned roads “in an effort to be responsive to our residents” and asked if those work orders were being reported to the County and included in its overall formula for needed repairs. Gavarrete responded, “If you are doing that, we appreciate it.” A member of Marlowe’s staff then confirmed that the roads repaired by the City are not reported to the County but that those incidents are infrequent.
County Commissioner Ken Cornell was hesitant to vote on the timeline regarding repairs to CR 337 until a road impact analysis could be performed, but Marlowe emphasized that the need for repairs was already well-established.
Opposition to the meat processing plant
The proposition of a meat processing plant also caused controversy among board members, and several county residents spoke in opposition to the facility during public comment. The facility was referred to as a “murder house” or “slaughterhouse” by some speakers, and others were concerned with the ethics behind processing cows for consumption. One speaker addressed the mental toll the facility may have on its workers, and another said that government had no business spending taxpayer dollars for something so controversial. Marlowe countered that argument later on, saying that Newberry’s small farmers are losing to the big agriculture corporations because those corporations have lobbied the government to create a system that the small farmers can’t compete in.
“When you say to me that government should not be involved in a problem that government was instrumental in creating, I find that to be a shallow argument,” Marlowe added.
The question of whether the meat processing plant would ultimately be included in the environmental park was not decided during the meeting.
After several proposed and substitute motions by County Commissioners, a motion by County Commissioner Mary Alford was finally approved; the motion directed staff from both commissions to work toward an interlocal agreement in which the City of Newberry would give the County access to approximately 22 acres of shovel-ready land in exchange for moving the reconstruction of Segment 1 of CR 337 to a firm date of 2026, including resurfacing, widening the lanes, and addressing the dangerous curves. The motion was passed unanimously by the Newberry Commission and approved 3-2 by the County Commission, with Cornell and Commissioner Chuck Chestnut in dissent.