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T.R. Hainline
Jax Daily Record Monday, Mar. 1, 201012:00 PM EST

City of Jacksonville to consider mobility fees

Guest Column

by T.R. Hainline

As part of the Community Renewal Act (Senate Bill 360) adopted by the Legislature and signed into law in June 2009, State law no longer requires the City of Jacksonville to have a traffic concurrency system. Currently, the City continues to enforce its traffic concurrency and fair share contract systems as local law. However, the Community Renewal Act requires the City to adopt “land use and transportation strategies to support and fund mobility” by July 2011.

Most state and local officials have deemed this provision to require the adoption of a “mobility fee.” As required by the Community Renewal Act, the Department of Community Affairs and FDOT issued a report on Dec. 1, 2009, providing details on what a local government’s mobility fee could require. Essentially, the goal of the mobility fee would be to provide funding for growth’s traffic impacts (which is the function of the current fair share contract system). Thus, since the Legislature’s action in June of last year, Jacksonville officials have been planning for the demise of the fair share contract system and the birth of a mobility fee system some time before July 2011.

It appears that the City is about to initiate the process whereby it will adopt a mobility fee system and terminate the fair share contract system.

On Dec. 18, 2009, the City released a draft Mobility Plan, which proposes the adoption of Comprehensive Plan amendments providing for the adoption of a mobility fee and the elimination of fair share assessments. The current expectation is that these amendments would be introduced to the City Council this month for hearings and transmittal to the state agencies in February. Following these agencies’ review and comment, the amendments providing for the mobility fee could be adopted in June/July of this year. Either in conjunction with the adoption of those amendments, or sometime thereafter, the City would adopt revisions to the Ordinance Code terminating the traffic concurrency system and fair share system and providing for a mobility fee system.

There are, however, many open questions. The draft Mobility Plan does not specify the amount of any mobility fee(s). Nor does the Mobility Plan address precisely when a mobility fee system may be adopted (between now and July 2011, presumably). Nor has there been any announcement regarding when the current traffic concurrency and fair share systems may be terminated.

Some of these questions may be answered soon in legislation to be introduced to the City Council.

The draft Mobility Plan summarizes the fundamentals of a mobility fee approach as follows:

“The mobility approach combines a fee system with an emphasis on the land development pattern and transportation alternatives connection. The mobility fee will be assessed for new development based upon a calculated sum. The fee will then be used to make infrastructure improvements in the area of the new development. A credit system … will be utilized in conjunction with the mobility fee to create a link between mobility and land use. One goal of the mobility fee system is to encourage shorter trips and the reduction of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) through the use of these mobility fee adjustments [credits] as financial incentives, thereby promoting a compact and interconnected land development form.”

The Mobility Plan recommends that the City be divided into five concentric “Development Areas”: Downtown, the Urban Redevelopment Area, the Urban Area, the Suburban Area, and the Rural Area. Each of these areas would have its own fee (perhaps further divided into assessment areas) “based on the weighted average trip length within that area.” Each area also has its own land use criteria—specifically, new land use criteria to be inserted in the Future Land Use Element of the Comprehensive Plan. The Mobility Plan will contain a map (Map M-6) of these proposed Development Areas.

The calculation of a mobility fee applicable to a given proposed development is based upon the number of vehicle trips projected to be generated by the development (a measurement we’re all accustomed to dealing with), a cost factor (yet to be revealed by the City), a “vehicle miles traveled” factor for each Development Area or assessment area, and the potential credits. The Mobility Study sets the formula out as:

(Cost per Vehicle Mile Traveled) x (Vehicle Mile Traveled per Development Area or assessment area) x vehicle trips generated by proposed development = Mobility Fee, which may be reduced by credits

The Mobility Study generally lists potential credits for factors which can affect trip generation, such as: a diverse mix of uses; transit service; pedestrian and bicycle “friendliness”; affordable and senior housing; transportation demand management.

Much of the Mobility Study also makes recommendations regarding land use policies. The recommendations are detailed and extensive: essentially, they propose a rewrite of land development regulations to encourage “mobility-oriented” development.

The Mobility Study makes no reference to more practical issues such as vesting or credit for current agreements, assessments already paid, or roadway improvements already built based upon a provision of credits.

At this time, there are more questions than answers about this proposed regulatory change.

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