Guest Column: The Commissioners Albatross

The Commissioners Albatross

Bruce A. Maguire
St. Augustine, FL

For several months, the Halback Design Group has been giving good presentations of the “Reconnecting the Castillo to the Bayfront” project to the residents of St. Augustine and our City Commissioners. I listened intently to Jeremy and the following detailed questions and comments from the citizens.

Surprisingly, I have not heard the detailed questions and comments from our Commissioners.

Although our Commissioners have spent a lot of money on numerous unnecessary projects, this one deserves the label of “Albatross”.

In Halback’s last two presentations, only one Commissioner correctly questioned the lack of in-depth analysis and future costs issues created by the project. Another Commissioner had reservations, but did not follow through on them; she has since changed her position.

None of the Commissioners questioned the true necessity of the project. Three Commissioners appear to ignore the financial strains and hardship costs to the community. This is a “bandwagon” project and three of our elected leaders jumped on the train as fast as they could!

This past week was more of the same. During the last workshop to the Commissioners, only two Commissioners (the same two) appeared to understand the real problems. I can easily see half a dozen critical problems with this project.

Over the next few days, I will present those issues and problems as I understand them.

First, the simple question of “Why are we doing this?” has never been completely addressed and therefore, never justifiably answered.

By now, we all know that the Halback Group discovered the grant. Likewise, we know that our Fort qualifies St. Augustine to be considered for the grant.

Furthermore, we know that the City has experienced serious traffic congestion issues on South Castillo Drive and Avenida Menendez over the last few years. However, the true root cause of the traffic jams has never been determined, much less analyzed.

The obvious and simple answer is that St. Augustine is the receiver of increased tourism activity via the automobile. What a nice problem.

But, why so much traffic on South Castillo Drive and Avenida Menendez?

Again, the obvious simple answer is the “downtown effect.”

Tourists want to go downtown where the history is located. Local traffic wants to go downtown to work or through downtown to get to work. Nobody wants to park on the perimeter and walk.

Within that demand framework, what are the limitations placed on the flow of traffic? There are two obvious answers: the bridge opening every 30 minutes and the slow moving carriages on Avenida Menendez and S. Castillo Drive. The road is not the problem!

These are simple answers and it does not take a computer whiz to watch the traffic and analyze the problems. Why then, are we trying to create an exorbitantly grand project, under the guise of “Reconnecting the Castillo to the Bayfront”, to enhance a road system that is not broken.

Let’s fix the problem elements which we can.

In several Commission meetings, the Mayor has claimed the separation of the City and the Fort by a four-lane road is the single biggest problem facing the City. I cannot disagree more. How can something that is not broken be a problem, much less the City’s biggest problem?

We have numerous streets which are infected with moguls and pits; severe flooding throughout the City; a water system that puts out yellow water; historical buildings that are rapidly decaying; city parks that are screaming for attention and numerous other projects. These are truly problems that are broken and need repair.

I believe there are only two reasons this project is pursued.

First is because a few people in positions to make the decisions want it. Second, grant money “may” be available. Remember, money talks!

Based on the feedback I have been receiving from the citizens based purely on my comments at the Commission meetings and the articles I have submitted to Historic City News, this project does not have the support of the community as being a true necessity and it could be a critical bleeding wound in our limited financial capacity.

Don’t confuse “need” with “nice to have”. The current proposal constitutes a major construction overhaul which I personally believe is unnecessary and devastating to our local businesses downtown and on Anastasia Island.

Over the next few days, I will present my case for the “do nothing” option. Specifically, the cost of the project, FDOT requirements, lane reductions, traffic flow issues, loss of parking, horse carriage movements, construction down time, the magnitude of this project, etc. We can improve the connectivity to the bayfront and the Fort without ripping apart the road.

In its initial mission statement, the Reconnecting the Castillo to the Bayfront project was offered to make improvements to the bayfront and A1A in time for the City’s 450th Commemoration in 2013-2015. However, this grant funding has the potential to provide capital funding for improvements to the bayfront and A1A, leaving improved connections between downtown and the Castillo – bayfront for the community’s benefit long after the celebration.

Bruce Maguire is a life-long resident of St. Augustine and Green Cove Springs. He graduated from the University of Florida where he was awarded a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Business, with a specialty in Real Estate, investments and planning. Following 21 years in the Air Force as a fighter pilot, Mr. Maguire retired at the rank of Lt. Col. and returned to St. Johns County. He served four years as a County Commissioner, presiding as Chairman for one year. During the four years, he represented St. Johns County on the North Florida Regional Planning Council and the Metropolitan Planning Organization. He was appointed by the Governor to serve on the 2010-2020 Florida Transportation Plan development board. He currently owns and operates several businesses within the community.

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