Sebring Parkway plans proceed
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING - The redesign of Phase II is nearly complete, and dirt work on Sebring Parkway Phase III could begin late this year, County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete said.
Published: February 8, 2013
Published: February 8, 2013
When the loop around downtown Sebring was discussed in March 2012, Highlands County commissioners sent their staff back to drawing board for alternative designs so more right of way would not be needed.
Phase II starts with U.S 27 at Ruby Tuesday and ends at Highlands Regional Medical Center.
Commissioner Barbara Stewart objected to a "suicide lane." That's what she called a third lane in the center of the highway where drivers, heading toward each other, can either turn left or right.
"I try to avoid suicide lanes at all cost," she said.
Even though Stewart retired in November, Gavarrete is still working on conceptual drawings.
"That's what board instructed us to do," he said. "That will probably come back before the commissioners within a couple of months."
Phase 3 will start at the 90-degree turn north of downtown Sebring, cut through what are currently orange groves, and join Memorial Drive south of Avon Park.
"We are still going with the intersection the college originally agreed with," Gavarrete said.
No, South Florida State College President Norm Stephens said Friday. "The college never agreed to the so-called original design, or Option 1, of the intersection.That design was strongly opposed by college officials and board members when it was presented in the spring of 2002. We remain strongly opposed to it now. In 2009, college staff worked with the county to develop an alternative that was ultimately endorsed by the College Board of Trustees and approved by the County Commission. In March of 2012, the County Commission reversed that decision in spite of strong objections from the college.
After college officials realized Option 1 was a four-way stop with a stoplight that would tend to direct traffic onto College Drive, the president and trustees appeared in front of the commission and pleaded for Option 2, which would tend to direct drivers to turn onto Memorial and continue to Avon Park.
"It will dump a lot of traffic onto College Drive," Stephens told the commission in March, which will be more dangerous for students and staff. Avon Park Administrative Services Director Maria Sutherland agreed, calling Option 2 "malfunction junction."
Even so, four county commissioners reversed an earlier board decision and chose the original Option 1. Commissioners Barbara Stewart, Ron Handley, Don Elwell and Jack Richie thought the original option was the safest way to handle traffic on the parkway.
A four-way intersection would have fewer conflict points than the diamond-shaped one with two extra left and right turns, Handley said. Ultimately, the commissioners chose what they believed was the safest intersection, which took Option 2 off the drawing board.
"That design is 60 percent complete," Gavarrete said. "We are currently working on drainage design."
The engineering department is also requesting permits from Southwest Florida Water Management District.
"If we can get permission, we will probably start construction by the end of the calendar year," Gavarrete said, barring any holdups, like the relocation of gopher tortoise, a threatened species in Florida.
"I have not been told of any," Gavarrete said.
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