What Is TPO Mobile, And Is It Worth It?

Traffic backs up on Nine Mile Road on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, near Navy Federal Credit Union.(Photo: Tony Giberson/tgiberson@pnj.com)Buy Photo

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If traffic problems like those on Nine Mile Road near Navy Federal were threatening quality of life, efficient commutes and economic growth in a community in Central or South Florida, you can bet your brake pads there would be exits, roundabouts, flyovers and underpasses built almost overnight. And to top it all off, they’d charge you a toll just for the convenience.

Thank God we’re not Central or South Florida. However, it’s worth noting that the growth-based challenges that Escambia County is facing now are hardly novel, even if the rapid development in Beulah has taken some by surprise. And while nobody would advocate for swirling towers of Central Florida-style bypasses, a swift and smart traffic solution is mandatory. Delay is no longer an option.

That’s why the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization should vote to prioritize the Nine Mile Road flyover project at their meeting on Feb. 14.

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The physical growth of Navy Federal has been extraordinary, driven by its swelling numbers of employees and the resulting economic impact to Northwest Florida. The company’s current regional payroll is around $300 million with an anticipated growth to $500 million in as little as five years. Currently there are 6,400 employees traveling to and from the Beulah campus daily — a number that is expected to grow to 10,000 in as few as five years.

The cultural reach of Navy Federal is regional. Its employees reside in every district in Escambia County. Nearly 1,100 workers travel to Beulah from Santa Rosa County daily, with an additional 200 coming from Baldwin County.

In other words, the traffic problems on Nine Mile Road are far more than an Escambia problem. The TPO’s move to prioritize this solution touches citizens throughout our region. >Buy Photo

Traffic backs up on Nine Mile Road on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, near Navy Federal Credit Union. (Photo: Tony Giberson/tgiberson@pnj.com)

Ideally, there would be a swift and easy solution such as the once-discussed rear exit from Navy Federal’s campus directly to I-10. That would make the most sense. But it would also require the federal government. Last month, officials at the Federal Highway Administration made it clear that the agency would be of no help in seeking such a solution. 

Commissioner Bergosh joked about appealing directly to President Trump to cut through the red tape. Surely, a well-timed tweet could get the federal ball rolling in Beulah, couldn't it? But unless Gov. Scott or Rep. Gaetz is willing to place a quick call to the Oval Office, the most logical and efficient solution from the federal government seems off the table.

That’s why voting 4-1, Escambia County Commissioners rightly approved a letter of support for the FDOT’s conceptual flyover plan on West Nine Mile Road in Beulah. As the dissenting vote, it’s disappointing that Commission Chairman Jeff Bergosh didn’t share his fellow board members’ sense of urgency.

More: Escambia County backs Nine Mile Road flyover to ease Navy Federal traffic

The TPO’s vote to prioritize the project will trigger a chain of slow, cumbersome — and important — bureaucratic steps leading toward a real solution for the folks who suffer through traffic on Nine Mile Road every day.

One of those slow but important steps will be public input from area residents, most notably, those living in the Nature Trail community who will be most closely affected by any potential flyover.

We wholeheartedly agree with Commissioner Bergosh’s demands for public input. However, there is a difference between commissioner-sponsored townhalls and action-oriented public input opportunities where residents’ ideas can be translated into real progress toward a solution.    

Citizens should expect and demand that the Florida Department of Transportation will be attentive and responsive to them as this project materializes and moves forward. But that's a long process. Even if it got the green light today, there would still be an estimated two years of meetings, studies, plans and paperwork before any construction takes place. Even if it all moved like clockwork, officials estimate the project is at least four years from completion — about the same time Navy Federal is projected to have nearly 4,000 more employees traveling to work in Beulah.

Which is why it’s so crucial to act now.

Nothing will happen overnight and the TPO’s vote is a necessary step to launch a meaningful public input process.

In the grand scheme, these are good problems for Escambia County to have. They are public challenges born out of large-scale private sector growth. This sort of rapid, modern, talent-driven success is relatively new to Escambia, which is why it’s even more crucial that our leaders aren’t slow to prepare, problem-solve and adapt.

Because if our region achieves the sort of economic development and diversification that everyone keeps talking about, the challenges don’t end with solving a traffic nightmare on Nine Mile Road. This is only the beginning.    


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Source : http://www.pnj.com/story/opinion/2018/02/10/editorial-tpo-should-move-solve-nine-mile-traffic/319181002/

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