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Orlando Sentinel: UCF, County Need to Reach Deal for Safer Streets Near Campus

The University of Central Florida has grown immensely over the past decade…and so have issues with pedestrians and bicycle safety in the area surrounding the school. Read the Orlando Sentinel article below to see what UCF, Orange County and FDOT are doing to improve the situation.

If you want to know just how slowly the wheels of government can turn, look no further than the intersection of Alafaya Trail and University Boulevard.

Cars whiz by at more than 45 mph, but the bureaucratic dawdle toward safer roads for college students on foot and bikes is much less hurried.

It’s been nearly two years since people in positions of influence in Orange County Government, the University of Central Florida and the state Department of Transportation began talking about making the area near the university’s main entrance safer.

And today there is still no formal agreement for who will pay for the necessary changes, no formal action from the County Commission and no start date in sight for the construction work.

As tempting as it may be to blame the lack of progress on general government sluggishness, other projects seem to get fast-tracked.

When UCF wants something done, President John Hitt and his team seem to find a way to make it happen.

A $60 million downtown Orlando campus, for example, has become a major priority, with UCF pledging to cover about two-thirds of the cost through its own budget or donations.

Hitt even made a deal with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer for the city to chip in more than $75 million in additional value in land and road work.

And no one’s life even depends on it.

But back near the main campus where cars have hit more than 250 walkers or cyclists, killing 11, since 2006, an agreement still isn’t finalized for a few million dollars worth of lighting, landscaping, signal and turn lane changes.

No one is even talking about a pedestrian bridge over Alafaya or University any longer.

That was deemed too expensive by county officials for the number of people who were expected to use it.

A task force led by Orange County to come up with improvements for the area held its final meeting this week.

The group came up with a solid list of recommendations.

One is modeled after changes made in Tallahassee near Florida State University, where decorative fencing and trees were added to medians to prevent students from trying to cross busy Tennessee Street outside of the crosswalk.

The finished project looks nicer and is safer.

But Orange county says it needs help from UCF and the state to maintain changes such as new utility costs from better sidewalk and road lighting (the deaths have typically occurred at night), new landscaping and crosswalk markings that will need to be redone after they wear away over the next decade or so.

UCF has generally agreed to pay for some of those expenses.

“UCF will contribute to the ongoing maintenance of the improvements,” said UCF spokesman Chad Binette. “We first saw very rough outlines of possible maintenance costs this week, and we are working with the county and Florida Department of Transportation to better define what the maintenance costs would be for various improvements.”

Renzo Nastasi, Orange County’s transportation-planning manager, says he hopes to brief the County Commission soon on a list of improvements that total about $15 million.

After that he expects a public hearing for the commission to vote on whether the county can officially move forward on a series of short-term and long-term projects.

“If we do that and the county is willing to pay for the improvements, then we have to make sure somebody maintains them,” he said. “If we finalize the maintenance issues, you’ll see a significant change there in less than two years.”

Sure, $15 million is a big commitment. So are the maintenance costs that go along with it. But that’s the price of bad planning.

And the roads surrounding the campus are only getting busier. Hundreds of new student apartments have opened since the county and UCF started this discussion.

That’s hundreds more students attempting to cross nine lanes of high-speed traffic every day to get to class.

It’s time to stop talking about making changes that will keep students safer and actually start doing it.

Published on Feb. 19 by Beth Kassab

Click here for the original article

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