Airport Gateway project stuck in a loop

Photo of last week’s meeting courtesy Jalynn McDuffey

The Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency met Thursday to discuss plans to move forward on funding of the Blueprint Gateway Project. With the next and final budget meeting taking place this Tuesday, many citizens are awaiting the final decision on whether or not the construction will begin next year.

With construction set to begin summer of 2024, the Blueprint Airport Gateway project would add seven miles of improvements to major roadways from the airport to downtown Tallahassee, with additional sidewalks and bike lanes.

The project would improve the commute and the south side communities it will run through. Project manager Abraham Prado believes this is what Tallahassee needs.

“That’s what we’re working toward,” he said. “The projects need to be permanent and approved by the government agencies but that is what our goal is. To still deliver that construction by 2024.”

But that goal may be more far off than many believed. As the original project was voted for in 2014, some commissioners, such as Christian Caban, have started to question if those benefits are equal to the rising price.  “We’re talking about a $40 million increase,” Caban said, as the price for the project increased from $82 million to $123 million in the last five years, “I am going to stand by my statement that not one person in this room would be OK, or would approve a 50% increase on their personal budget, on their home budget without a detailed line item of where that money came from.”

City and county commissioners are not the only ones concerned with the price increase. Community leaders, like Samuel Sims, do not believe the community will get the product it is paying for.

“It’s located on the south side but the south side is the most neglected part of this city … a legacy of neglect,” he said.

Painted as a community rehabilitation for areas that need better infrastructure, like the south side, Sims is just one concerned citizen who believes the money should be put into the people and not just the land.

“We have a low-income housing crisis, we have rising violent crimes in our community,” Sims said. “We have gun violence, and what, food deserts. I have a long list of what we could do with $82 million.”

With concern for the citizens, many of the proposed projects, like the Northeast Gateway, continue to be pulled through the ringer as commissioners work to fulfill these promises.

City Commissioner Diane Williams-Cox wants to make sure plans that were promised to uplift the community are remembered. “I noticed there was no mention of our honoring the promises made to Providence,” she said

in response to County Commissioner David O’Keefe’s suggestion of removing major sections from the project’s construction on South Lake Bradford Road and Orange Avenue, two roads that run through the south side, “The reason those promises were made goes away, that becomes this board’s responsibility because someone has to give it to them because they were promised it.” Williams-Cox said.

County Commissioner Bill Proctor spoke by phone against making empty promises on projects they said would be done. “We spend money before we get it. We need to wait until we get some money behind it.”

With the goal to retool the project in the next few weeks, the road construction is including more twists and turns than expected. With promises of strengthening lower-income communities and bringing economic growth to Tallahassee, the discussion over the Blueprint Airport Gateway project does not seem to be quieting any time soon. With the commissioners working hard to be on one accord, the citizens eagerly wait for the benefits they were promised.