Summerland road project to start

By Steve Estes

Next week crews will begin work on what is slated to be a seven-month road and right-of-way enhancement project on the south side of Summerland Key, from Caribbean Dr. to West Shore Dr., and encompassing almost all of the commercial district.

The project, estimated to cost about $2 million, in addition to repaving the highway, should also address what has long been a serious drainage issue in the area.

Florida Department of Transportation contractors will repave and re-stripe the half-mile section of US 1. The project also calls for installing drainage improvements on the south side of the highway.

Standing water after even the lightest of rains has long been a problem for the businesses in that area, and even more of a problem in the last four or five years as standing water has increased the depth and breadth of potholes running through the right-of-way.

A couple of years ago, FDOT contractors installed a drainage basin on the north side of the highway that will now receive the flushed water from the new drainage system on the south side.

Business owners in the area have been pleading with FDOT for nearly a decade to address significant drainage issues along the south side right-of-way, along with a heavily potholed travel surface that in some instances prevents low-profile vehicles from entering some shops and offices.

To that end crews will be installing standard French drains which will then flow under the road to the drainage basin on the other side.

There has been no mention made of plans to widen the highway in that location although originally plans called for shifting the travel lanes slightly to the north to better accommodate the remaining work in the right-of-way.

FDOT had planned this project for a couple of years ago but pushed it back in the five-year work plan so as not to interfere with the construction schedule of Monroe County’s wastewater treatment system. The new drainage improvements will be done on the same side of the highway where sewer pipes will be located.

Had FDOT gone first, the state and county would have been forced to mediate some agreement because DOT regulations require a five-year wait before local projects can tear up what has been done.

But that’s not everything that will get added to the south side right-of-way.

FDOT also plans to put a new sidewalk on the south side of the highway, allowing pedestrian and bicycle access from Summerland Key Cove to the primary commercial district on the island without the need to walk or bike in close proximity to the highway. The same holds true for the residential units surrounding Summerland Airfield.

The length of time planned for construction has some business owners concerned that motorists who might otherwise opt for the convenience of a stop at their facility just yards from the highway will instead clear the construction zone and look elsewhere.

Pam Adamany, long-time owner of Summerland Sandal and Surf Shop said she has concerns that unless crews mark commercial entrances very well and don’t make access too frustrating for potential customers, all the shops along that commercial district will feel the pinch over a seven-month time frame.

If the work starts Monday as planned, it would affect holiday traffic for July 4, and also affect what is normally huge traffic increases for the two-day sport lobster season at the end of July. Lobster season officially opens Aug. 6, with thousands of extra visitors, and then things generally calm down for the remainder of the summer into early fall.

But this schedule runs the construction past the late-October visitor surge known as Fantasy Fest, and then into the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

According to FDOT’s statement, lane shifts will occur and there will be travel lane closures at times.

“Construction will be done in stages to minimize impacts to the public, especially during special events and peak periods of traffic,” states the FDOT release on the project.

All lane closures are expected to occur during non-peak hours, Sunday evening through Friday morning. Lane closures will not occur on Saturdays, special events or holidays.

During public scoping meetings for this project, some business owners urged that FDOT use the project to address ingress and egress concerns along the length of the commercial district.

“There is nothing out there (right-of-way) that prevents people from jumping on the bike path and using it as a travel lane. There is nothing that marks where the entrances and exits are, and what we get is a free for all,” said Internet Realty Broker Greg Maclaren.

FDOT representatives said at the time that some of those issues would be addressed via landscaping along the newly planned sidewalk.

However, that landscaping and sidewalk create other concerns.

With the drainage fixes, the bike path remaining and the addition of a sidewalk, FDOT will be pushing its use of the right-of-way almost to the extreme limit.

For the tenants of Royal Palm Plaza and Jeff Price, owner of Summerland Hardware, extending that use of the right-of-way after more than 30 years will present unique challenges.

Parking for the hardware store runs north/south. Drivers of extended cab pick up trucks probably won’t be able to use any of the store’s parking in front of the entrance, leaving only a few potential spaces west of the shop, and possibly forcing a change to the ingress/egress patterns if the sidewalk and associated landscaping can’t be driven over.

According to plans Price saw, the right-of-way line would actually cut through the the bed in an extended pick up truck.

FDOT has not responded to that issue as yet, although the general answer has been that any use of the right-of-way by a commercial or residential facility is at the sole risk of the facility owner.

FDOT and businesses up and down US 1 have been arguing over private commercial use of the right-of-way for years.

Anyone seeking more information about the project can contact Nancy Barta, FDOT public information specialist at 305-393-4340 or email at: nancy@swsinc.net.

No Comments »

Leave a Reply