Now that we know who’s running for the two City Council seats in November’s election, there’s no reason to waste another minute or another penny of our tax dollars on the wrongheaded-but-resurrected proposal to eliminate lanes along the Twin Pairs through downtown Vero Beach.
The good news is that when a newly seated Vero council takes up the matter at its Dec. 12 meeting, the votes for eliminating lanes won’t be there.
Rey Neville, one of the three current council members endorsing the proposed lane reduction, decided to not seek a third term. The three candidates on the fall ballot – Mayor John Cotugno, former councilwoman Honey Minuse and two-time also-ran Taylor Dingle – all have indicated they will vote against it.
Actually, Cotugno has said publicly he doesn’t believe decisions made by previous councils should be overturned unless an “egregious mistake” was made.
That’s not the case here.
In 2021, in fact, the council approved a more sensible and less drastic plan to make the Twin Pairs safer through the downtown area, opting to reduce the speed limit to 35 mph, narrow driving lanes, widen bicycle lanes and add crosswalks.
The action was taken to appease a vocal minority that complained traffic-calming measures were needed, despite studies that showed the Twin Pairs were safe and speeding wasn’t a significant problem.
It wasn’t an egregious mistake.
An egregious mistake would be to adopt the draconian proposal pushed by Neville, Vice Mayor Linda Moore and Councilman John Carroll, all of whom want to reduce – to two lanes in each direction – that strategic half-mile stretch through downtown at a time when the county’s population is racing toward 170,000.
Does that mean Cotugno has changed his mind? Not at all.
You’ve got to understand: Cotugno is in a tough spot, running for a second term in an off-year election, when local turnouts are often dismal and margins of victory can be slim.
He’s very popular and has done an outstanding job as mayor, but for some in the city, the Twin Pairs is an emotional issue, especially for those who’ve deluded themselves into believing the lane reduction will magically transform Vero’s downtown into a shopping Shangri-La.
So he’s playing it smart, hoping to not alienate voters on either side of the debate.
“I’m not going to deny what I said,” Cotugno said last week, when asked about his remarks earlier this year about not overriding decisions made by past councils. “I voted for the previous plan because, as it was presented to me at that time, I thought was a viable solution.
“But the circumstances have changed.”
He was referring to the arrival last November of three newcomers to the council – Moore, Carroll and Tracey Zudans – which created a majority that wanted to revive the seemingly dead Twin Pairs controversy.
Moore and Carroll strongly favored removing lanes, as did incumbent Neville. Rather than remain allied with Zudans on the losing side of a 3-2 vote, Cotugno decided to allow the process to play out, agreeing to see the results of a traffic study and hear what the community says before rendering a verdict.
“I decided the best thing to do,” he said, “was to let the process run its course and get everyone involved.”
So the council approved the expenditure of more than $50,000 for a traffic study, which was conducted earlier this summer by Kimley-Horn & Associates and revealed the roadway had the capacity to absorb the lane reduction.
No one was surprised, given the study was done after our seasonal population and their cars had left town.
The council then voted 4-1 to spend nearly $115,000 to move forward with plans to engage and educate the public on the proposed lane reduction, as well as to prepare the application required by the Florida Department of Transportation, which will make the final determination on the project’s fate.
For those keeping score: That’s nearly $165,000 wasted on a proposal that has no real chance of becoming a reality.
Zudans is firmly against it, and both Minuse and Dingle have said they won’t support it, either, if they’re elected.
Cotugno, too, will ultimately stand by his convictions, vote against the lane reduction and urge the council to revert to the plan approved in 2021.
And here’s why: An overwhelming majority of the community knows it would be foolish – even irresponsible – to reduce lanes along the busiest east-west thoroughfare in a county growing faster than we can build roadways to accommodate the traffic.
You don’t need to be a city planner or traffic engineer to know the proposed lane reduction will do little to attract more people to downtown Vero, which would benefit far more from zoning and other land-use changes designed to spur residential development in the area.
It’s ridiculous to think people are staying away from downtown because they’re afraid to cross State Road 60, which is not a “superhighway,” as some lane-reduction proponents dishonestly claim.
Reducing lanes would not only create bottlenecks that would result in traffic slowdowns and backups during the busier times of day, but adding streetside parking would increase the potential for crashes, many of which likely would involve pedestrians and bicyclists.
Another unintended consequence?
Motorists will veer off and find alternate routes through adjacent residential neighborhoods, such as McAnsh Park, to avoid the throttled traffic along the Twin Pairs.
And don’t forget the impact on traffic of having Brightline’s high-speed passenger trains zipping through downtown 32 times each day, along with the inevitable increase in the number of freight trains rolling by.
All of this should become obvious on Oct. 5 and Nov. 16, when the City Council holds public hearings on the Twin Pairs proposal, and at the county Metropolitan Planning Organization’s hearing on Oct. 25.
That’s assuming city and county residents opposed to the lane reduction show up.
To be sure, Moore and Carroll will mobilize their supporters, and they’ll try to pack the City Council chamber, maybe with enough people to give the impression that they represent a sizable segment of the community.
They know FDOT repaves State Road 60 every 20 years. They know this is their last chance to get what they want.
Even if the lane reductionists do rally the troops, though, it’s difficult to imagine Cotugno or anyone other member of the new council being swayed by anything less than a totally one-sided turnout. A split room won’t be enough.
FDOT officials want the city’s decision by Jan. 1, so they can begin the design phase of the agency’s $6.7 million road-resurfacing project, scheduled to start in fiscal 2027.
Unfortunately, we apparently are going to waste more time and money before we tell them what everyone here already knows.
But just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.