| Barry Friedman, LkldNow

Lakeland city commissioners voted 4-1 today to recommend that the Florida Department of Transportation maintain a three-lane configuration for South Florida Avenue in Dixieland with two travel lanes and a center turn/median lane. Commissioner Samuel Simmons cast the lone vote against the measure. Commissioners Mike Musick and Bill Read did not attend today’s meeting.

Simmons, attending his fourth meeting as a commissioner after being appointed to the seat in October, said he voted against the project because he thought the comments from seven residents who spoke against it at today’s meeting were compelling.

Today’s vote will initiate the design phase of the project, which is expected to take up to 18 months to complete; it will also allow city and state transportation officials to begin negotiating funding sources for construction, which is expected to start in 2026 or 2027 and last two years, according to Chuck Barmby, the city’s planning and transportation manager.

The project to transform the one-mile portion of South Florida Avenue between Lime and Ariana Streets was prompted by concerns about driver and pedestrian safety and to promote economic development, Barmby said. The road — officially designated State Road 37 — is under the jurisdiction of the Florida Department of Transportation.

The road configuration recommended by city and state transportation planners calls for two 10.5-foot travel lanes, 11.5-feet for turn lanes and medians, and 12-foot sidewalks on either side.

A large postcard was mailed to Lakeland residents last week saying that Monday’s meeting was the “last chance to speak up to restore South Florida Avenue.” There was no indication on the postcards of who paid to print and send them.

Still, turnout was light at Monday’s meeting. Nine residents spoke to commissioners about the project. Seven opposed it; two supported it.

Several people urged the commission to approve a four-lane configuration for the roadway to handle larger traffic volumes. Florida Department of Transportation officials had previously said that the “no build” option would be to go to four lanes. The previous five-lane configuration is out of the question because the 8.5-foot to 9-foot lanes previously in place did not meet safety standards, they said,

Several opponents questioned whether pedestrians would use South Florida Avenue, saying that many businesses open in back to the alleys and that they see very few pedestrians now.

But supporter Joni Costa countered that the reason there are few pedestrians is that the current narrow sidewalks are not conducive to pedestrian strolling. Planned streetscaping would give Dixieland the chance to have the kind of ambience seen in Tampa’s Hyde Park or Winter Park, she said.

Several of the opponents who spoke at today’s meeting live in neighborhoods just south of the official project area and said they have difficulty getting out of their neighborhoods because of traffic that backs up from Ariana Street.

One of the city’s recommendations to the Florida DOT is that the project designers look for ways to “improve the merge areas north and south of the project area,” though no specific solutions were offered.

Here are the specific recommendations for FDOT that the city outlines in the proposed resolution:

a. Construct a three-lane cross-section for that portion of Florida Avenue between Ariana Street and Lime Street, with shared sidewalks being expanded to 11- to 12-foot widths to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists through the removal of the existing concrete barriers.

b. Improve pedestrian crossings within the corridor by installing audible signals at each signalized intersection and adding an on-demand crossing at East Belmar Street.

c. Add left-turn signals as appropriate at the Orange Street, Frank Lloyd Wright Way – Cresap Street, and East Belmar Street intersections to improve access onto and from the Florida Avenue corridor.

d. Improve the merge areas north and south of the project area during the design phase of the permanent corridor project.

e. Identify options to widen the sidewalk area along the west side of Florida Avenue in the vicinity of the Polk Theater.

f. Ban non-delivery tractor-trailers on Florida Avenue, with an alternate truck
route being determined around the Downtown and Dixieland Districts\

.City of Lakeland proposed resolution 22-058

In addition, the resolution offers “additional findings and recommendations:”

a. The Peach Line [bus] circulator service should be made permanent, with future consideration for Gold Line improvements with bus bays and covered shelters if recommended and approved by the Lakeland Area Mass Transit District.

b. The City and the CRA will work with FDOT to incorporate beautification enhancements into the permanent Florida Avenue corridor improvement package.

c. The City commits to funding the design phase of the requested corridor improvements and requests that FDOT program funds for right-of-way acquisition and construction in its Five-Year Work Program.

d. As part of its annual budgeting process, the City will seek to prioritize and identify operational and safety improvements on its adjacent roadway system, such as the installation of speed humps, brick restoration, and the installation of raised crosswalks, with consideration for additional funding for alleyway improvements.

e. The City will continue to seek funding for the construction phase of the South Wabash Avenue Extension (Ariana Street to Harden Boulevard) and requests that the FDOT fund the implementation of capacity and operational improvements along US Highway 98 (Bartow Road) between Edgewood Drive and Main Street.

.City of Lakeland proposed resolution 22-058

SEND CORRECTIONS, questions, feedback or news tips: newstips@lkldnow.com

Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

Leave a comment

Your Thoughts On This? (Comments are moderated; first and last name are required.)