FDOT actions at year end raise concerns

Public kickoff meeting
scheduled for bridge expansion

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

The notice of public hearing was misleading at best. When the Florida Department of Transportation issued official notice for its “Tentative
Five-Year Work Program for Fiscal Years 2014-2019,” the purpose did not call out the proposed expansion of the Fuller Warren Bridge.
In fact, the notice simply stated “This meeting will serve as the official public hearing. There will be a formal presentation of the Tentative Five-Year Work Program.”
There were no red flags for Carmen Godwin, Riverside Avondale Preservation executive director, until she got to the bottom of the notice where it stated “Written comments will be received by the Department at the workshop or hearing and until December 31, 2013.”

And that was after the fact.
Godwin was informed of the Dec. 9 meeting while attending a program on walkable cities on Dec. 10. “The meeting notice said nothing about this. It was an overview of the five-year work plan and this was not in it. How would people know they should attend this meeting?” she said.

The “tentative” work plan includes a project to widen the Fuller Warren Bridge to eight lanes. The expansion is slated to begin in 2016, paid for with $136 million in funding FDOT secured for the project, supposedly only after losing another project in District 2 to avoid losing $130 million to another FDOT district, according to an “Action Needed!” email sent on Dec. 29 to subscribers to RAP’s newsletter.

The project is expected to take three years to complete, includes changes to the flyover to I-10 West to Roosevelt Boulevard and will tie into to the ongoing Overland Bridge construction
project.

The Resident got wind of the project on Dec. 13 and when this reporter asked FDOT about the potential impact on the Riverside Arts Market and the proposed Artist Walk, the response was “It is early in the process and still under design. There will be public meetings soon after the New Year when these concerns can be addressed. This widening is needed for safety reasons and high volumes of traffic on I-95. I would encourage individuals with concerns to contact the FDOT and attend the public forums about the project,” said Mike Goldman, FDOT Public Information Officer, in an email.

• Closing the barn door •

On Dec. 29, just two days before the deadline for public comment, Godwin sent out an alert to the organization’s members asking for concerns to be voiced to FDOT District 2 Secretary Greg Evans. Those concerns were “about the FDOT’s failure to follow normal and best planning practices and the potential negative impacts of this proposed project…There should be additional opportunities for public input, but they will likely occur after the project has been funded.”

The Resident again contacted FDOT after the first of the year, asking about the short notice for the short comment period. According to Lauri Shubert, Public Involvement Coordinator, FDOT was just then in the process of setting up the first public hearing to kick off the project, garner input from residents and consider alternatives, leaving the impression that nothing was yet finalized.

However, according to a notice released by the Planning and Environmental Management Office of the Florida Department of Transportation, the focus of Feb. 10 meeting is to discuss a Project Development and Environment Study to improve travel time through the interchange area. Advertised as “the I-10/I-95 Interchange Operational Improvements Kickoff Public Meeting” it will be held Monday, Feb. 10, 4:30-6:30 p.m., at Riverside Park United Methodist Church. For questions or comments, contact Jim Knight, P.E., at (800) 749-2967 ext. 7707 or [email protected]

Shubert indicated that there would be several public meetings throughout 2014, but for Godwin, that’s like closing the barn door after the horse got out.
“Yes, there will be lots of public comment through the process to tweak the project, but whether or not the project happens was that Dec. 31st comment date. Our whole issue is that we don’t know that the project is needed. There’s been no data provided,” she said. “We reached out to the FDOT asking for crash data and they have provided nothing to us. James Bennett said he would get all that data to us and we never saw anything.”

Godwin isn’t convinced that FDOT will change its mind, especially since Bennett would not extend the deadline for public comment on funding. “Our concern was that the legislature would fund this and the tweaking around the edges would be ‘oh, maybe we can fiddle with this retention pond in exchange for taking out some houses in North Riverside.’ I think they should have made the Dec. 31st deadline [about funding the project] clear and this is what that means, and that there will be other public meetings on the project itself. I think that was a little unfair.”

• Community at risk •

The proposed expansion puts some existing homes and offices at risk, as well as community quality-of-life projects – such as the Riverside Dog Park and the Artists Walk extension of the Arts Market – that are still on the drawing board. It will likely impact Riverside Park, a registered national historic district park, as well as the St. Johns River and McCoy’s Creek, according to Godwin.

“We’re going to stay on top of this as it moves through the process. We are definitely looking at how to help them figure out a way to resolve their issues within the current footprint,” she stated. “If they really do have issues and we can resolve that without an impact on the ground, that would be ideal.”

Godwin also noted that RAP has a group of professionals in the industry who are looking at ways to fix it within the existing footprint, perhaps with signage, as well as considering a deviation to emergency lane widths to add another lane to the Fuller Warren without putting pilings in the water.

“There may be some operational issues they can fix without doing a project that has enormous impact on the ground,” she said. “Our first hope was that we could have the project moved to a discussion in the long-range plan. If they are able to push it through the legislature, then once that happens I don’t know what kind of input we can have.”

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