The Lakeland City Commission wants the public’s opinion on how to fix the Five-Points and George Jenkins Boulevard intersections to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to have safer and easier access to the Bonnet Springs Park entrance.
There are three proposals — all of which include a roundabout on the north shore of Lake Beulah.
The city commission voted 5-0 Monday to award Gibbs & Register, Inc., $2.2 million to build the single-lane roundabout that will connect Bonnet Springs Boulevard, Sloan Avenue, Lemon Street and both sides of West Main Street. Lake Beulah Drive was once a part of the five-point intersection, but officials closed it off years ago.
“The intersection improvement project will reduce intersection delays, improve safety, and serve as a gateway feature to the Downtown West development area,” City Manager Shawn Sherrouse told city commissioners Monday. Commissioners Bill Read and Sarah Roberts McCarley were absent from the meeting.
Sherrouse said the project is being funded through a combination of multiple city divisions:
- $1,156,555 from the Community Redevelopment Agency
- $466,031 from the Transportation Fund
- $370,000 from the Public Works Lakes and Stormwater Division
- $86,570 from the Department of Water Utilities
Commissioners voted to approve an additional $203,300 from the Transportation Fund’s unappropriated surplus to fully fund the construction of the project and to provide about $75,000 in contingency budget for any “unforeseen construction issues.”
Runners call Sloan Avenue underpass ‘the most dangerous moment of my day’
Separate from the roundabout in both funding and work is the reconfiguration is the railroad underpass at Sloan Avenue, which could require some tricky negotiations with CSX and the Florida Department of Transportation for any major work to the tracks and trackbed.
The aging bridge only offers 12.5 feet of vertical clearance, instead of the recommended 16.5 feet, causing some large trucks to get stuck.
And it is extremely narrow, with only a crumbling two-foot path for pedestrians or bicycles to navigate the expanse on their way to Bonnet Springs Park.
Planners have identified three possible solutions and are asking for people to weigh in on their preferred configuration. City officials put up a Facebook poll on Monday evening. By Tuesday afternoon, there were 270 comments.
Proposal A: A complete restructuring of the Bonnet Springs Drive/Sloan Avenue railroad overpass to include bike and walking paths on either side of the road. It is the only option that would increase the clearance for trucks, but it is the most expensive. The north and southbound lanes would be 12-feet wide, with 6-foot paths and a 6-foot division between the driving lanes. ESTIMATED COST: $11.7 million.
Proposal B: The addition of a 10-foot wide walking, biking tunnel on one side of the roadway, while maintaining the existing road configuration. It would separate pedestrians from traffic, but would not address the structural deficiencies of the overpass. ESTIMATED COST: $3.5 million
Proposal C: Closing off one lane of the existing roadway for exclusive use of pedestrians and bicyclists. It is the least expensive, but would limit vehicle connectivity to the park. ESTIMATED COST: $354,000
Samantha Miranda said she was in favor of A or C.
“I think the tunnel is going to be dangerous at night, and will probably be taken over by our homeless community as a dry and shady resting place,” Miranda said. “The parks’ benches and resting areas are flooded downtown. I can see all the ‘human waste’ waiting for the city team to clean up. Super cool idea though, just not practical for our increased violence crime and homeless community in our city.”
Several other also commented on the tunnel’s safety.
“Am I the only one getting some rapey vibes from option B?” Randy Grimes asked.
“There is NO way I would walk myself or my kids through a tunnel to the park,” said Jenn Heuslein, who preferred option C.
“I see red balloons in that tunnel!!” said Gary Greene, referring to a terrifying character in the Stephen King novel-turned-movie “It.” He said he preferred option A.
The overwhelming majority of people who had responded by Tuesday afternoon said they preferred A, the expanded road and pathways.
“Lakeland is growing rapidly,” said Rev. Rafael Febre Lanzó. “We can’t restrict the flow of traffic. Especially if we’re going to invest now, so it can help for the future.”
“Think about future generations of Lakelanders who will be using this,” said Gail Bagley. “You don’t want our grandkids to wish we had done it the right way. Go with A.”
Commissioner Chad McLeod said helping people safely reach Bonnet Springs Park is a priority for the city.
“I’ve had people from the running community, running groups, that go out Saturday morning from downtown and they love to run to Bonnet Springs,” McLeon said. “But people have said ‘Chad, it’s the most dangerous moment of my day and I feel like I’m taking my life into my hands to get under that and it’s dark.’ … I like the direction we’re headed with that and making that a priority that we have to figure that out and find a way to connect Bonnet Springs to downtown.”
Roundabout would end long waits at red lights
The proposed roundabout would eliminate the need for traffic signals at the complicated intersection where Main Street, Lake Beulah Drive and Sloan Avenue come together at acute angles. The city estimates about 10,000 vehicles per day use the intersection.
With the current configuration, drivers can wait up to 3 minutes and 40 seconds because when one leg has a green light, the other four are stopped.
Commissioner Mike Musick said he would like to see more roundabouts in the city because they improve the flow of traffic.
“Roundabouts for me are relatively new,” Musick said, adding that his son lives in Carmel, Indiana, which has 138 roundabouts. He commended “not only the safety and the speed at which traffic continues to flow, that, you know I’ve become a real big fan of roundabouts. And obviously we’ve got costs and things that we need to incur, but I think that it’s going to be great for that area. It’s an area that’s on the upswing … with Bonnet Springs and real estate going up around there. So I’m excited to see it. And I hope we get more of those things.”
The mayor said the roundabout is the right move for that intersection.
“I think most of the resistance to roundabouts comes from people who primarily haven’t used them much,” Mutz said. “I have spent hours in aggregate of my life at this intersection that I could clock, and in most cases with no one moving through it. And it’s a perfect case in point where roundabouts just work, as you come up and approach these things. And as we have more of them, that will become less of an issue. It reduces accidents and reduces wait time and increases the ability for you to move fluidly through a city and to do it in a way that causes the least amount of limitations.”
City officials still need to work with FDOT to request project development and environmental funding for further analysis of crossing alternatives. They also need to establish priority with Florida Rail Enterprise to access additional funding.
In addition, they need to develop a local funds package to leverage state and federal funding options, coordinate with Utility Agency Owners to deal with a gas line on the north side of the crossing, and continue to emphasize the development of Lakeland’s Intermodal Center just east of the intersection.
Construction on the roundabout is scheduled to begin in this fall, with an estimated construction duration of 265 days.
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