With development coming to parts of downtown Lakeland west of Florida Avenue, city commissioners are turning their attention to ways to move pedestrians and bicyclists over and under the barrier formed by the CSX railroad tracks.

Today they reaffirmed their support of a proposal to build a pedestrian bridge linking New York Avenue with Lake Wire. They also pressed their case to build a pedestrian underpass between Lake Beulah and the upcoming Bonnet Springs Park to keep walkers and cyclists from sharing the narrow Sloan Avenue underpass with cars and trucks.

View the resolution about rail crossings here or at the end of this article.

A New York Avenue overpass will link numerous trails planned for west Lakeland, city Business Development and Traffic Manager Chuck Barmby told city commissioners today.

To the south of the railroad tracks, that includes the New York Avenue bicycle track that opened in 2019 and the proposed West Lake Hunter Trail.

To the north of the railroad tracks, the city is planning pedestrian improvements around Lake Wire linking to a planned residential/retail development on the old Florida Tile site, Bonnet Springs Park, and the North Lake Wire neighborhood, Barmby said.

The Florida Department of Transportation is in the process of designing the overpass with the help of Jacobs Engineering, Barmby said. He showed commissioners a rendering of what the bridge might look like. It included stairs for pedestrians and switchbacks for bicyclists.

The portion over the CSX tracks would be enclosed in meshed metal, and a weathered steel look is envisioned to minimize maintenance costs, Barmby told commissioners Friday.

Most of the costs will be funded by the state DOT, but the city of Lakeland is programming $85,000 for aesthetic improvements, including powder-coated railings and concrete sealer.

Florida DOT has funded design of the overpass and right-of-way acquisition, Barmby said, but construction has not been funded yet, though it remains a high priority for DOT District One.

The idea for a downtown overpass originated with the 2013 project to establish a downtown Lakeland rail quiet zone in conjunction with a realignment of freight routes that brought more train traffic through the downtown area. Overpass locations along Kentucky Avenue and near Lake Mirror were considered, but efforts ultimately coalesced around New York Avenue, which was closed to vehicles between Main Street and Lake Wire Drive as part of the quite zone project.

Commissioners were asked by DOT to reaffirm their support for continuing work to plan the New York Avenue overpass.

When commissioners discussed the document supporting the overpass at their agenda study meeting last Friday, they decided to add another project they’ve been discussing recently: an underpass between Lake Beulah and Bonnet Springs Park.

The underpass issue emerged when commissioners reviewed plans for a roundabout north of Lake Beulah last month. Commissioners expressed concern for the narrowness of the vehicle lanes under the CSX trestle, the low overhead clearance and the lack of safety for walkers and cyclists.

Commissioner Stephanie Madden expressed the need for urgency since the 160-acre Bonnet Springs Park is scheduled to open next spring and its main entrance is just north of the Sloan Avenue rail underpass.

“That trestle was probably built in the 40s,” Barmby told commissioners today. “It is definitely inadequate for automobile traffic but certainly has no bicycle and pedestrian facilities to connect downtown with Bonnet Springs Park and the $100 million plus investments being made there.”

At the commission’s urging on Friday, the city Legal Department added a paragraph about the underpass to the resolution approved today:

“The City Commission continues to support ambicycle/pedestrian pathway to be constructed beneath the CSX Rail Line, along Sloan Avenue between Lake Beulah and George Jenkins Boulevard near the eastern terminus of the planned Chase Street Trail, as a vital improvement to connect the Lake-to-Lake Bikeway with Bonnet Springs Park and a pathway network serving the greater western Lakeland community.”

Greg James, the city’s assistant public works director, told commissioners on Friday that the consultants designing the Lake Beulah roundabout plan to investigate alternatives for crossing the railroad tracks toward George Jenkins Boulevard.

Learn more: Staff presentations, meeting video, the resolution

City Commission Meeting – December 6, 2021 from City of Lakeland on Vimeo.

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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.

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