Gainesville and Alachua County declared a traffic violence crisis on Monday during a joint meeting, directing staff to create an educational campaign and work on an enforcement piece.
Mayor Harvey Ward brought up three pedestrian and bicyclist deaths in the past three weeks. While engineering has dominated past discussions, Ward said the city can only advocate for change along state roads like University Avenue, 13th Street and NW 39th Avenue.
However, the city and county could increase its education and enforcement components, he said.
“We have reached a point of emergency on our roadways,” Ward said. “Some folks are being hurt in parking lots, some on city streets, a lot more on county roads and even more on state roads.”
Commissioner Bryan Eastman made the motion to declare the crisis, directing the city manager’s office to connect with the county, UF, Santa Fe and other stakeholders in an education campaign.
Both city and county commissioners also brought up enforcement and discussed how to leverage the law enforcement piece. While the city has direct control of its police department, Alachua County has a more distant role with the county sheriff.
The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) made a mirror motion with direction for a staff letter to Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr. asking for the department’s assistance in the crisis.
The city is holding corridor walks this week to gather community input on possible changes to University Avenue and 13th Street.
On the agenda for the joint meeting, the commissions heard a presentation on Gainesville Regional Utilities’ (GRU) new recharge wetlands park.
The Gainesville commission greenlit the new 75-acre wetlands park—a smaller version of Sweetwater Wetlands Park—in February 2022. The new park would provide passive and active recreation off Parker Road (SW 122nd Street) near Myra Terwilliger Elementary School.
GRU engineer Rick Hutton explained that the parcel contained everything the utility needed: proximity to existing water lines, located on a high recharge area and for sale.
Once operating, GRU will pump millions of gallons of reclaimed water into the site to create artificial wetlands. The water will filter down, further reducing nitrogen and other contaminants levels, and recharge the Florida aquifer.
The park will filter 3 million gallons per day, but Hutton said the site will build up to 5 million gallons per day. The park will expand GRU’s water capacity while also providing a unique wetlands walk for citizens.
Ward noted that the park will sit fairly far outside the Gainesville city limits and called the project a great example of governments working together.
While GRU will maintain the wetlands portion, Alachua County will control the park aspect.
Jason Maurer, the county’s parks and open space director, said county staff plans to hold community meetings to see what type of facilities would be best.
Located right by Terwilliger, Maurer said safe connections will be made to the school and educational trips would be possible.
The cost for the park area could range around $1 million depending on inflation between now and when the project is ready, Maurer said. The new park would also add a small increase in the annual budget for maintenance.
GRU, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Suwannee River Water Management District will heft the price tag of everything else.
GRU paid $2 million for the property and the cost for building the park will run between $8 million and $10 million. However, the other two partners covered half the cost of the land and have almost finished negotiations to also pay for half of the construction costs, Hutton said.
Site plan approval will return to the BOCC, and Hutton said construction should start in 2024 or 2025 with completion by 2026.