Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Slim experience by City's dodgy mobility consultant, Littlejohn Engineering Associates

Tackling 'a complicated issue': A look at St. Augustine's mobility consultant, Littlejohn Engineering Associates
Posted: July 3, 2016 - 11:44pm | Updated: July 4, 2016 - 5:12am
The challenge of creating a mobility plan in St. Augustine, a place with unique history and growing demands, belongs to Littlejohn Engineering Associates.

“Mobility is the most important initiative that we’re doing in the city ... in my mind,” City Manager John Regan said, adding that it’s “a complicated issue with many components to it.”

So, why was Littlejohn selected for the complicated task of solving St. Augustine’s mobility puzzle? Regan said the company competed with other firms, and a team of city officials ranked Littlejohn higher based on qualifications.

The process started when the city began looking for candidates to craft a mobility plan. Letters of interest came from many firms, including Lassiter Transportation Group, of Ormond Beach; Genesis, which has headquarters in Tampa; Prosser, which has an address in Jacksonville; Reynolds, Smith & Hill, also located in Jacksonville; and Littlejohn Engineering Associates, which has offices in Orlando and Tampa.

City employees graded firms based on qualifications, Regan said. That put Littlejohn at the top, and the city negotiated the contract for a “transportation and parking master plan.” Regan calls it a mobility plan. The city has to go with the top-ranked firm if negotiations are successful, Regan said.

The company signed a contract with the city in April to do the first phase of the work; the first public survey and series of meetings in the project were finished in June.

According to Littlejohn’s application letter, “The Littlejohn Team has worked on hundreds of transportation planning and design projects, many including traffic calming and complete street studies, evaluation of neighborhood traffic intrusion, public transportation, and the preparation of context sensitive design elements. ... Our recent history in Florida includes complete street projects for the Polk County TPO, Manatee County, the City of Lakeland, the City of Haines City and we have just completed an assignment for the City of Winter Haven on their Downtown Transportation Plan.”

Formed in 1989, Littlejohn is involved in planning, engineering and environmental work, according to the company website. The company headquarters is in Nashville, Tennessee, with branches in other states.

S&ME Engineering Integrity announced plans to acquire Littlejohn in 2014 — S&ME is an “engineering, design, environmental consulting, and construction management services” firm that at the time had 950 people and 26 locations, according to a company news release. Littlejohn is now “an SM&E company.”

The letter Littlejohn submitted to the city lists five “similar projects” and references as basis for their qualifications to take on the city’s mobility project.

One of those projects is called a “mobility plan,” though other transportation projects are listed.

The mobility plan was completed for Melbourne, and it appears work on the mobility plan at least began under a different company.

A copy of the mobility plan sent by a Melbourne official lists Land Design Innovations on the cover — it says it’s a draft from March 2011. Littlejohn took over Land Design in 2011, according to Littlejohn’s website. Littlejohn’s letter of interest described it like this: “Littlejohn prepared a Mobility Plan (Transportation Concurrency Exception Area Plan) that applied to most of the City of Melbourne. The mobility plan included five mobility districts throughout the City. The mobility plan was necessary to enable the City to promote and encourage higher density development within the core areas of the City.”

The project value was $50,000, according to Littlejohn.

Cindy Dittmer, community development director for Melbourne, said the plan helped the city look at the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians and other forms of transportation as opposed to focusing only on roadway issues, and laid out potential projects, she said. Since the mobility plan, the city has continued to work with Littlejohn in other efforts, Dittmer said.

“It’s the same staff that was Land Design Innovations [who] are the core of who we work with still at Littlejohn,” Dittmer said.

Another project is a “downtown transportation plan” for the city of Winter Haven, completed in October 2015 with a project value of $42,000, according to Littlejohn. There, Littlejohn was chosen as the “lead consultant for the preparation of a downtown transportation plan that would extend their horizon planning year from 2025-2035. The project entailed the evaluation of existing conditions to establish a baseline for comparison to future projections for transportation and parking demand.”

Merle Bishop, growth management director for Winter Haven, said the work was more of a study than an in-depth report, citing the city’s limited budget.

“But it served the purpose that (we) looked for,” he said.

Bishop said the primary person they worked with is no longer with Littlejohn, and Littlejohn was part of an agreement with another firm. He said deadlines were met and the project was done under budget.

Littlejohn couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.

Bishop said the city has submitted projects from the mobility plan for possible funding.

In Haines City in January 2014, Littlejohn completed the $159,000 “U.S. 17-92/Oak Avenue Alternative Corridor Feasibility Study,” according to their letter. “Littlejohn led a team of consultants to analyze the feasibility of extending Oak Avenue to 17th Street in order to create a parallel route to U.S. 17-92 in Haines City, FL. The Study included the comparative analysis of improvements only on the existing U.S. 17-92 alignment that could be extremely disruptive to the downtown core of the city, and to the Oak Avenue parallel improvement.”

Jonathan Evans, city manager for Haines City, said the city was “looking at alternative roadways that can be [enhanced] to take off some of the congestion that we were experiencing on 17-92, one of the major roadways that comes through our community.”

He said Littlejohn worked on the project from the beginning and started around the time he became city manager. He said there were no issues with deadlines and Littlejohn worked well with staff and the community to get input and engage the community.

The feasibility study provided a proposed alternative, but that has not been implemented. After the study was finished, and after speaking with the Florida Department of Transportation, officials realized the effort would have cost a couple of million dollars more than estimated.

Evans said the hope was that the FDOT or county would contribute more based on preliminary discussions but once the idea was presented it wasn’t feasible for them, he said.

In Manatee County, Littlejohn is helping implement “the Complete Streets objective and polices adopted in the County’s Comprehensive Plan by incorporating Complete Street Standards in the Public Works Manual,” according to Littlejohn. “Littlejohn prepared typical-sections for various types of streets, and developed criteria for determining which to use based on the land use context of each area.”

The last similar project listed in the submittal was an “update of a comprehensive parking study for the Downtown Development District and the City of Baton Rouge, LA,” according to the Littlejohn. “The study was performed to determine the need, appropriate location and size of parking facilities that would serve the existing and future parking demands generated by planning and redevelopment activities.”

In St. Augustine, the challenges are uncommon, if not unique, as the roadways seem to have a little bit of everything: cars, delivery trucks, scoot coupes, Segway riders, buses, trolleys, horses and carriages, bicyclists and pedestrians — all traveling around a centuries-old city in the midst of a county experiencing tremendous growth and a city with a booming tourism industry.

“St. Augustine is a place where people want to do business ... where people want to visit,” said George Kramer, director of planning for Littlejohn Engineering Associates. “We believe the transportation and parking system can either enhance or [detract from that]. ... we’re excited to help this city through this process.”

As to what shape that help will take, Kramer said part of the company’s role in St. Augustine will be crafting a plan that takes a holistic look at the city.

Littlejohn officials have been collecting data for the project, and they recently put out a second survey to get more public feedback. That is available at staugustinegovernment.com.

The first survey gathered more than 1,200 responses.

The city’s contract with Littlejohn calls for up to more than $108,000 for the first phase of work, which will create a framework for the mobility plan. Some of that funding is expected to go to subconsultants. The city will have to make another agreement for creation of the plan.

attinson63 07/04/16 - 08:11 am 43Thank you Sheldon
Very well written and in depth.... thank you for helping us to understand exactly what this company is doing, as well as researching their track record.
martystaug 07/04/16 - 08:16 am 82Golden Goose is sick
The Golden Goose that is St. Augustine is sick. Littlejohn was hired to keep the goose laying eggs without regard to those who live here. By "here" I don't mean WGV or Nocatee or Ponte Vedra. City residents are paying for this mobility study, not you. City residents are paying the price for all of the success wrought from the constant bombardment of advertising from the TDC. Recent articles have highlighted how the St. Johns County's TDC collects the bed tax and sets the rates. But most of those beds are in the city of St. Augustine and St. Aug Beach, yet the cities do not share that golden egg. And the impact of all those visitors hits city residents, not WGV or Nocatee or PV residents. They in fact are part of the problem. Because they increase the traffic, but are not over-night visitors. The first step in any recovery process should be to either disband the TDC or at least have a moratorium on advertising. And don't increase the bed tax rate, that will only encourage the county to impose more traffic stress on the city. The cure for what ails St. Augustine is fewer cars, fewer big events. In other words, stop digging now that you realize you are in a big hole. But it is the county and the TDC that needs to stop the digging. The mobility study is about traffic and parking. This does not sound like it is focused on helping city residents, rather it is focused on directing more outside visitors to the businesses downtown. We don't need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to know that this hole is too deep and we need to stop digging.
sponger2 07/04/16 - 09:30 am 82Problem: Too much noise and traffic.
Only so much mass can occupy a finite space.(You can't put ten pounds of poop in a five pound bag.)
Reduce noise and traffic so residents can enjoy their town. The businesses are doing fine.
City residents (taxpayers) are paying for study to find ways to do the opposite of what said residents want. To wit, to pack more mass (people) into that finite space to part them from their money; at the expense of the people that live here.

mach12.1e 07/04/16 - 11:33 am 72Problem solved.
Fire the TDC (Trouble, Disturbance, and Chaos) group, pick a month as "Residents of St. Johns County Month", Get stickers issued from DMV for the cars that belong here, and thereby provide free parking, before the residents pull a "Brexit". and TAKE their town back. Make check for $108,000.00 payable to "Citizens against corrupt local government".

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