The regularly scheduled June 19 Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting began as scheduled but abruptly veered into controversy. The MPO is the legislative agency responsible for transportation planning in the urbanized area of Indian River County. It’s 12 voting members represent the local governments within the county. City of Vero Beach City Councilmember Laura Moss was attending her first meeting.
Twenty minutes into the meeting reviewing projects, Moss proceeded to complain, “On this list of projects there’s not a single one that benefits the City of Vero Beach. My question is how is that allowed to happen with all these millions and millions of dollars being spent and virtually none of it goes to the City of Vero Beach?”
Phil Matson, the County’s MPO staff director, responded that the list of projects includes $16 million dollars for the intersection of 43rd Avenue and SR60 and $6 million for A1A resurfacing.
Moss then doubled down on her complaint, stating she knows “There’s been bad blood between the county and the city” and that “This (list of projects) is almost hostile to the city.”
She punctuated her comments with finger wagging and table pounding, fortunately with the palm of her hand and not her shoe.
County Commissioner Susan Adams then addressed Moss, saying, “This plan is for improving roadways countywide. The bad blood and FPL you’re talking about has nothing to do with the plan and we probably need to dial that down a little bit so we can have a conversation.”
Moss’s complaint centered on improvements she felt are needed to Aviation Blvd, but not on the project list. County Commissioner Tim Zorc noted that the county “spent hundreds of thousands of dollars designing Aviation Blvd. and a prior (Vero Beach) City Council chose not to sign the crossing agreement at US1 and Aviation Blvd.” He said that was about eight years ago and since then the money was reallocated to other projects. “You just can’t piece the funding back together.”
But Moss continued to insist that Aviation Blvd. must be a priority until MPO chairman and Sebastian City Councilman, Bob McPartland, said, “I appreciate your concern but I’ve been sitting on this board almost six years and the City of Vero Beach hasn’t brought this up in all that time. All of a sudden somebody’s coming in and wants their particular area done, so everyone asks what happened to my projects. To jump in front of the list almost feels like bullying.”
Moss went on to further inflame the situation by stating “Vero Beach Airport adds up to $10 million and Sebastian Airport adds up to $7 million and they aren’t in any way comparable.”
Commissioner Adams interjected, “You are comparing apples to oranges and I don’t appreciate the tone of this conversation.”
County Commissioner Bob Solari then gave Moss a primer on county transportation priorities. “When I came here in 1980 the population of Vero was about 16,500. Thirty-seven years later Vero Beach has about 17,500, one thousand more. In 1980 the county was 56,000 and now it is 142,000. We have roughly 85,000 more people. That is what drives transportation needs.”
He went on to say, “It doesn’t help to come in here with this challenging attitude that we’ve done everything wrong and thank goodness you are here to fix it for us.”
County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan then suggested coming back in a formal presentation about the airport plan and explaining the changes that are needed. “That would be more appropriate than coming here pounding the table and demanding we do something.”
After that diversion the group moved on to handle its regularly scheduled business agenda.