I write in reluctant support of the half-cent sales tax. I share the concerns expressed by many about the failure to raise impact fees until the recent public outcry over the half-cent sales tax.
Nevertheless, I am persuaded that no amount of impact fees would have been sufficient to address existing deficiencies on State Road 44.
I hate to say it, but we really need the half-cent sales tax to make things work.
I live on Lake Winnemissett Drive in DeLand, approximately one-quarter mile from the intersection of S.R. 44 and Kepler Road. I have lived here since 1989 and attended countless public hearings to advocate for the need to build the Beresford Avenue Extension to relieve traffic on S.R. 44.
The gridlock on S.R. 44 is a perfect reflection of the gridlock between city, county, state and federal officials all trying to find a more perfect solution to the problem.
S.R. 44 is a state road, so the Florida Department of Transportation is responsible for allocating federal highway funds to supplement state gas-tax revenues and county impact fees to improve the road.
There is never enough money to go around, and there are no federal highway funds available to build a parallel city or county road to relieve traffic on S.R. 44.
Over the years, FDOT has commissioned various studies of ways to improve traffic on S.R. 44. The most recent study, in 2017, found that at least 26 percent of traffic traveling on S.R. 44 to/from the Interstate 4 interchange would utilize Beresford Avenue Extension if it were built today. I think that grossly underestimates the amount of traffic that would take Beresford Avenue Extension to get to Kepler Road.
Traffic is like water; it follows the path of least resistance. If there was a direct connection between S.R. 44 and Kepler Road via the Beresford Avenue Extension, I believe most people would take the road less traveled to get to Kepler Road.
The intersection of S.R. 44 and Kepler Road tops the list of transportation improvements to be funded by the half-cent sales tax in DeLand. Beresford Avenue Extension is second on the list.
I applaud the inclusion of these projects on the list, but question the plan to “improve” the S.R. 44/Kepler Road intersection before building Beresford Avenue Extension. If you think traffic is bad now, just wait until they close lanes to build the new roundabout at S.R. 44 and Kepler Road.
Some suggest our current woes are the direct result of Volusia County’s failure to raise impact fees over the years. Development should pay its fair share of the cost of mitigating the impacts of development, right? OK, but name just one project that is responsible for the current gridlock on S.R. 44.
Sure, we have Victoria Park but most of that traffic dumps onto Orange Camp Road. I cannot name a single private development that accounts for traffic on S.R. 44.
In 1970, average daily traffic on S.R. 44 just west of I-4 was 4,286 trips per day. Today, that number is 21,500 trips per day.
Average daily traffic jumped from 10,095 trips per day in 1988 to 13,721 trips per day in 1991 after they opened the County Administration Center in 1989. It stayed fairly level and even decreased a few years until it jumped to 20,100 trips per day after they opened the new Courthouse in 2001. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
The simple fact of the matter is that DeLand is no longer Dead Land. We have a vibrant Downtown that attracts visitors from far and wide, and a bustling economy that provides well-paying jobs to residents of Volusia County and beyond.
We used to despair that our children had to leave town to make a living. Now, we witness the daily migration of thousands who come to work and play in DeLand.
So, I ask you to join me in reluctantly supporting the half-cent sales tax because we really need the money to fix something that is clearly broken. All the better that tourists will pay a big chunk of the money, because there’s no way to charge them admission or impact fees.
I promise I will keep attending public hearings and do my best to make sure the city and county keep their promise to build Beresford Avenue Extension. It might not be the perfect solution, but it may well be as good as it gets.
— De Parry is an attorney serving all of Volusia County in the areas of probate, guardianship and estate planning. A former city attorney for the City of DeLand, de Parry also assists clients with land-use and zoning matters. Recently, she led the successful opposition to the proposed RaceTrac at the intersection of S.R. 44 and Kepler Road.