LAKELAND — Lakeland residents and drivers may have five years to see the redesign of South Florida Avenue be completed, according to city staff.
That’s five more years of those often-complained-about low-lying concrete bumpers.
Chuck Barmby, Lakeland’s planning and transportation manager, told city commissioners Monday that he expects it will take that long for the South Florida Avenue “road diet” from Lime Street to Ariana Street to go through the state’s lengthy process.
“Before we start moving toward actually constructing a permanent solution for the corridor, I think we are still in a five-year range,” Barmby said, responding to a question from Mayor Bill Mutz. “Nothing happens quickly on a state roadway.”
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE DIXIELAND ROAD DIET:
Florida Department of Transportation held a public forum July 11 at the RP Funding Center to collect feedback from residents, business owners and commuters on how slimming the roadway from five to three lanes has impacted them.
Barmby said public comments from the meeting and those collected through an online, interactive survey will be compiled. The online survey was open as of Monday afternoon but is expected to be shutdown momentarily.
The FDOT will take some time to finalize its extensive data study of the roadway, Barmby said. It has looked at traffic, travel speeds, accidents and collision data for not only South Florida Avenue but some of the main cross streets, including Ariana, Lime and Pine streets and Frank Lloyd Wright Way.
Lakeland staff will meet with the state agency on Tuesday to discuss the public forum and what, if any, additional data is needed before a decision about the roadway’s final form is made. Barmby said residents asked for further study about the road diet’s impact on local streets, including New York Avenue.
The state’s analysis of the road diet and the compiled public comments are expected to be presented to Lakeland commissioners in the late summer to early fall, according to Barmby. An exact date has not been set.
Once Lakeland officials made their official recommendation, Barmby said the design phase will start. He anticipates issues with stormwater drainage and underground utilities could cause the process to take about two years.
“It will be a fairly complicated stretch of road to design,” Barmby said.
There are no funds to finish construction of South Florida Avenue. Barmby said there is no money programmed in the state’s five-year plan to reconstruct the roadway. The Lakeland CRA has allocated some funds, but an exact amount was not immediately available. It’s not enough to fully fund the project’s final phase.
Barmby said there has to be consideration given to the fact there are three major corridors in Lakeland up for reconstruction. Lakeland Hills Boulevard is scheduled to be fully reconstructed starting in 2024, according to Barmby, during which time the road could be narrowed to two lanes for an anticipated two-year construction period.
“It’s a balancing act,” he said.
The mayor asked Barmby and city staff to see what could be done to speed up the process along South Florida Avenue.
“That took a little wind out of our sails,” Mutz said.
Parking on Florida Ave?
Commissioner Bill Read said he thinks Dixieland needs additional parking and to undergo rezoning for the corridor to flourish.
“Dixieland cannot thrive without additional parking,” he said.
Barmby said when the CRA has previously conducted parking surveys of South Florida Avenue and the Dixieland area, it’s not the number of parking slots that’s an issue but where the spaces are located. It is a major issue.
“It has to be part of any conversation we have about the overall vision of Dixieland,” he said. “The question is what are the true parking demands of businesses located there today.”
Barmby said there are surface parking lots one block west of South Florida Avenue,and that he thinks they could be better utilized with partnerships.
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The city’s consultant, Ayres Associates, has suggested three alternatives to the road’s current layout that add on-street parking. Barmby estimated this could bring 40 parking spots to the roughly one-mile stretch.
“It’s a very minimal number for the impact it will have on capacity,” he said. “Within the envelope of Florida Avenue itself, [street parking is not really a viable solution for the area.”
Barmby said the issue should be addressed and reviewed with each new business that moves into the Dixieland area. The adjacent historic residential neighborhoods have parking restrictions on their streets that could be looked at and reviewed by city staff.
Sara-Megan Walsh can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7545. Follow her on Twitter @SaraWalshFl.