If you think gas prices will ever get back to below $3 a gallon, well, don’t hold your breath while you wait. We will probably be fortunate if they stay below $4 per gallon for any length of time.
For years we have been attempting to wean ourselves away from oil as our primary source of fuel. With oil prices staying at all time highs and a pretty much worldwide attitude that America consumes way too much fuel, now is a good time to look more closely at our alternatives.
Besides just buying an overly priced fuel efficient vehicle, there are other alternatives to using less gas.
It would be a terrific side effect if because of the rise in gas prices Americans started doing more of their traveling using methods that are more physical. Sitting in a car driving around town isn’t much different than sitting in front of the tube at home; neither of which offer a lot of physical movement or do much for one’s health.
On the other hand, we are fortunate that in Collier County in years past, when money flowed like water through county budgets, we were able to see expanded pedestrian and bicycle access throughout the county. While there have been pathway studies going on for a long time, it was not until our substantial boom years that we actually found the money to create designs, acquired the additional right of way when laying out new roads and found a way to pay for the hard surfaces needed for good pedestrian and bicycle movement.
There are a lot of miles of great pedestrian and bicycle pathways along a number of our major roadways, however as we might expect, they are in areas with newer roads where designs could be more easily accommodated. Our urban core is woefully lacking in safe alternative travel routes compared to some of the new wider pathways constructed along such areas as the canals on Collier Boulevard and Immokalee Road.
There are substantial differences between pathways and bicycle lanes.
Pathways can be constructed wide enough to safely accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists, which is in sharp contrast to the dangerous narrow bicycle lanes that have been added to the right side of many of the main vehicle travel lanes of some of our new roads. Bicycle lanes positioned like those along Collier Boulevard are an accident waiting to happen and any bicyclist using these is taking a risk that certainly seems unwarranted.
Unfortunately, while the pathways program has made great progress, there are holes in the system. The Immokalee Road pathway needs to have a comparatively short distance completed in order to connect to the Collier Boulevard system to the east and then there is the controversial piece that needs to connect the Immokalee Road pathway under the new Interstate 75 interchange. While the amount needed to just get 60 percent of the design completed on this I-75 piece is excessive, $315,000, it would however start the process to link the final mile of a much needed pathway.
The $315,000 is for only 60 percent of the design and does not complete the design job, much less the construction. The $315,000 will ultimately be paid by the Florida Department of Transportation through a grant to Collier County, which none-the-less means taxpayers. For a mile of complicated design involving the I-75 interchange, the price may seem more unreasonable due to the times we are in as compared to the work that needs to be done.
Before moving forward the complete costs to finish the design and actually build the pathway need to be understood. Some additional right of way may need to be purchased, constructing around I-75 will not be cheap and the FDOT will not make it easy. Also the design may have to be radically altered if the physical elements of construction and right of way do not meet the assumptions used to design to the 60 percent level, thus adding even more costs.
The primary decision is not only whether it is right to spend $315,000 of grant money; it is whether or not to spend any money at all before we have a viable idea of what the estimated cost of the overall project will be and how and when that will be paid for. The time frame for a fully completed project is critical information when making this decision since many designs are time sensitive. Often times when we actually begin to implement a plan that was bought and paid for in times past we end up with excessive change orders which can easily double or triple the costs to complete if we take too long before we see the project move forward.
Grant money or not, every dime needs to be well thought out.