Work to prepare South Florida Avenue for a lane reduction in Dixieland gets under way on Monday, city officials said today. A one-year test of the “road diet” doesn’t start until fall, but construction will begin Monday and is expected to take up to six months, city Transportation and Development Manager Chuck Barmby said.
Once data from the one-year test is analyzed, the Lakeland City Commission and Florida Department of Transportation will decide whether to make the changes permanent. DOT is funding the $1.7 million project.
The plans call for reducing Florida Avenue from the current five lanes (two travel lanes and one turn lane) to three (two travel lanes and one turn lane) between Ariana Street and Lime Street.
In most places, vehicles will move through standard 11-foot travel lanes instead of the current lanes, which vary from 8.5 to 9 feet, Barmby said.
During the test phase, low concrete barriers similar to medians will be placed about three feet in from the current sidewalks to simulate the wider sidewalks and new vehicle channels that would come with a permanent road realignment, he said.
In addition, the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency is considering adding planters between the temporary barriers and the sidewalk to simulate the kind of landscaping that would accompany a permanent road diet, Barmby said.
Construction had been scheduled to start earlier this month, but contractor Hubbard Construction Co. requested a 15-day delay.
Even though the actual test isn’t scheduled to start until October, Barmby concedes that the effects of COVID-19 could suppress traffic levels in the early part of testing. But given the year’s duration, he expects to see a return of traffic and the ability to see seasonal variations in vehicle levels.
Starting Monday the Citrus Connection is introducing a “Peach Line” route that will use smaller buses to let passengers on and off along parallel streets in Dixieland and parts of downtown since it will be impractical for standard buses to stop on Florida Avenue.
State transportation officials have estimated that average trips on Florida Avenue between Ariana Street and Lime Street will be delayed 17 to 50 seconds, depending on time of day.
The main benefits cited by advocates of the road diet are safety to motorists and pedestrians and economic development in Dixieland.
Skeptics are worried about both delays on Florida Avenue and the effects of traffic diverted through nearby neighborhood streets.
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