In August 2021, orange and white “Road Closed” signs began appearing on West Pipkin Road. Bulldozers started shoveling dirt and giant steel power poles began sprouting in people’s front yards. It was the beginning of a three-year, $55.6 million project to widen nearly four miles of the busy east-west thoroughfare between South Florida Avenue and Medulla Road by the airport.
Construction is scheduled to end in November 2024. But for those who drive that route daily or live along Pipkin Road, patience is wearing thin.
Traffic backups are an ongoing hassle as lanes close for the reworking of feeder roads, including Yates and Waring roads, portions of which were closed for reconstruction of those intersections.
The project was one of many included in Polk County Board of Commissioners’ ambitious five-year “Community Investment Program” allotting $515.7 million for road widening, alignment studies, intersection improvements, bridge replacement, drainage projects, and maintenance throughout the county.
The Board of County Commissioners approved numerous contracts for alignment studies and design of major collector roads and the purchase of millions of dollars of right of way along those corridors.
The county’s recently adopted FY 23-24 budget shows the project total is $55.6 million. This includes:
- $3.4 million for design.
- $7.5 million for right-of-way acquisition.
- $42.7 million for construction.
- And $2 million for additional consulting engineering and inspection during construction.
The city of Lakeland is kicking in an additional $6 million over the life of the project for utilities work.
Scott Baldwin, a construction manager with Hubbard Construction of Winter Park, said the project was always slated to end in 2024 and his company is sticking to the contractual timeframe. He referred questions to Jay Montoya, the county’s director of roads and drainage, and Doug Gable, the county’s project engineer, for any timeline questions.
“The currently scheduled completion date is Nov. 2, 2024,” Gable said, noting it was advertised to bidders as a three-year project. “The project is on schedule except for the normal weather delays due to rain. The only major increase in contract price was due to inflation of certain construction materials, specifically asphalt. Otherwise the project is going pretty good to date.”
Gable said the change order for inflation of asphalt and fuel prices is $351,246.
Residents are growing impatient
People who live along Pipkin Road are growing impatient with loud construction equipment, torn up roads and the general chaos that comes with any big road construction project.
Nick Nichols, 59, grew up in Lakeland and in 2020 moved into the recently developed Towne Park neighborhood just south of the intersection of Yates and Pipkin roads. As he was getting his hair cut at Lakeland Barber Company, Nichols said his frustration level is 10 on a scale of 1 to 10.
“All they do is keep detouring people — it’s horrible,” Nichols said. “They do these detours and half of them you can’t even see in the middle of the night.”
Barber Dayton White said he feels badly for the people who have lost most of their front yard to the expansion and addition of new power poles.
“That’s what’s crazy to me is how far up they’ve put it in everybody’s front yard,” he said.
Subcontractor fields complaints from homeowners
Sara Lemire lives on Sandhill Crane Drive and said in August that crews were using vibratory rollers to flatten the ground, but without the required monitors.
“We have video of our house shaking, including the China cabinet and pool water shaking,” Lemire said. “They claim they are meeting Department of Transportation specs, but they are not since they did not have the monitoring up. We also have cracks in our back wall and pool leaking we had to patch. They won’t take responsibility even with video we told them about.”
Lemire said they were told it wouldn’t happen again. A temporary sidewalk was also added, as promised, months later.
Gable said anyone with any cracking issues should contact Karim Shalaby with AECOM, a subcontractor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Mr. Shalaby will send someone to investigate the issue,” Gable said.
Shalaby said his office has been in touch with residents.
“We did receive complaints from nearby residents concerned about vibration. To help alleviate these concerns, we have since utilized vibration monitors to check and make sure vibrations caused from construction activities remain within allowable limits,” Shalaby said. “I am not aware of any complaints specifically about cracks in walls.”
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