Martin County MPO throws residents under the bus on Kanner Hwy widening

 

The MPO is the primary agency responsible for transportation planning in Martin County. In this capacity, the Board has the power to develop and adopt plans and to program transportation improvements for facilities receiving state or Federal funds.The Board consists of seven (7) elected officials representing three (3) local governments and four (4) Ex-Officio (or non-voting) members. (Source: www.martinmpo.com)

 

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: The Martin County Metropolitan Planning Organization majority voted today to allow Kanner Highway to become a noise-wall lined 6-lane expressway from the I-95 Interchange into the City of Stuart despite impassioned pleas from residents to stop or delay the project.

 

Only County Commissioner Sarah Heard refused to be bullied by staff from the MPO, the County Engineering Department and FDOT. Heard stood up for County residents in voting against a 2015-2020 Transportation Improvement Program that includes the Kanner Highway widening project that is opposed by many residents throughout Martin County.

 

County Commissioners John Haddox and Doug Smith, City Commissioners Eula Clarke and Troy McDonald, and Sewall’s Point Commissioner Vinny Barile threw residents under the bus in voting to approve the TIP containing the Kanner Highway widening project.

 

MPO Administrator Beth Beltran and Deputy County Engineer Terry Rauth told the MPO Board they had to approve the TIP despite overwhelming opposition from the public or risk losing all state highway funding.

 

Smith and Haddox were joined by Clarke in supporting the widening project that residents say will destroy the character of their neighborhoods, pose safety hazards, and eliminate the verdant gateway to Martin County and the City of Stuart.

 

McDonald and Barile initially joined Heard in supporting a proposal to simply remove the Kanner Highway project (only one page in a 100+ page program) from the TIP.

 

But Beltran and Rauth argued against compromise, making no effort to support residents or to try to find a solution that would make the project less onerous. When commissioners asked for more time to get information and study the matter, Beltran said the deadline for approval of the TIP is June 30, requiring a decision to be made today.

 

She did not explain why the program was not brought forward at an earlier date rather than waiting until the deadline that forced a “my way or the 6-lane highway” vote.

 

Commissioners McDonald, Heard and Barile made repeated attempts to modify proposals to allow the TIP to be approved without committing to the Kanner Highway widening. However, because County Commissioner Anne Scott did not attend the meeting, the various motions drew 3-3 votes (with Haddox, Smith and Clarke supporting the widening project and Heard, McDonald and Barile opposed).

 

A tie vote means the motion fails, making it impossible to get approval for the TIP and prompting Doug Smith to criticize his fellow Board members with a sarcastic, “Good job, guys” after the second or third tie vote.

 

Haddox and staff then piled on with threats of losing all state money for future road projects, including the Kanner Highway widening, finally persuading McDonald and Barile to join Smith, Haddox and Clarke in approving the TIP with the Kanner Highway widening project included.

 

Only Commissioner Heard remained dedicated to residents, opposing the final motion with Barile and McDonald caving in to the pressure applied by Beltran and Rauth, joining Smith, Clarke and Haddox in telling residents that their concerns don’t matter.

 

(County Commissioner Ed Fielding, who is not a member of the MPO Board, spoke at public comment in support of the residents and urged the Board to slow down the Kanner Highway widening project, which has already stumbled due to a bid protest.)

 

McDonald, as MPO chair, thanked Beltran at the end of the meeting, specifically complimenting presentations from a number of young residents of the LAGS area who tried to persuade the commissioners to oppose the Kanner Highway widening.

 

NOTE TO MPO: Staff had absolutely nothing to do with the presentations of the young people or any other residents. Congratulating staff for persuading board members to reject the concerns expressed by the public — young and old — does not give young people a lot of hope that decision-makers really care about their participation in local government.

 

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