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Plant City Observer Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018 1 week ago

The long and winding road

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FDOT assures Alexander Street construction will not interfere with the Florida Strawberry Festival.
by: Breanne Williams Staff Writer

Alexander Street is finally being paved. After much preliminary work by the Florida Department of Transportation, the actual road is now being repaired.

Construction for the project is taking place at night to help prevent congestion and drivers have begun to comment on the visible construction to the roadway, which has been a point of contention for residents for years.

Last week, city commissioners commented on the slow repair for the roadway and Commissioner Bill Dodson inquired as to when we would begin to see visual improvements. The very next day construction teams hit the streets and he said he was happy to finally be able to see progress.

Despite rumors the state was having issues getting started, FDOT assured it was on schedule and completing the necessary steps.

“There was not a delayed start to this contract,” Kristen Carson, spokesman for FDOT District Seven, said. “The contractor was completing work that was not as noticeable to the public. Shoulder widening, extensive erosion control installation and base work at multiple locations.”

Lawrence McClure, state representative for District 58, said his office has been committed to ensuring this project was completed on time and on budget. For him, the Florida Strawberry Festival was the ultimate completion date and as it looms ever closer he said he was determined to ensure the state understood how crucial it was all work was completed by the time thousands of visitors came to town.

The 2018 Florida Strawberry Festival drew 526,025 guests, according to the festival. People park in the front yards of homes, catch golf cart shuttles from distant parking lots and occasionally even find themselves sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate as they attempt to file into Plant City. 

Adding construction cones and detours to the mix would inevitably be a disaster and Dodson said failing to complete in time or accommodate for the 11-day festival would “create an enormous back-up and burden.”

Gail Lyons, director of the Grand Parade that takes place each festival season, said she wasn’t too concerned about the uncertain timeline of the road repair. She said she remembers years ago when Evers Street and Wheeler Street were “all torn up” right before the parade.

They were able to pull it off then, so she is certain they can pull it off now. Though she did add she truly hopes the construction company keeps in mind how important the festivities are to the community. Luckily, FDOT has received the frequent messages from the city and McClure and has come up with a solution if the construction has to be delayed due to weather or other unforeseeable events.

“We are pushing hard to have the contractor complete this project before the Strawberry Festival because we know how important the Festival is to the community,” Carson said. “However, with weather delays and upcoming holidays, the Plant City Christmas parade etc., it could push the completion date out. If we cannot complete the project before the start of the Festival, at that time all work will be suspended with all equipment being removed or stockpiled at the southern end of the project.”

Dodson said he was relieved the state understands Plant City’s unique predicament and the investment the entire community has in both the repair of the road and the success of the annual festival.

“We’ll have to hope for good weather,” Dodson said. “Typically in the winter time, which we are in, we have dryer months so construction shouldn’t have much of an issue. I’m optimistic that there shouldn’t be any slowdowns in their project. They’re left with several months to get this completed, that’s all of December, January and almost all of February.”

If the deadline looms he said FDOT may want to consider expanding its construction into day-hours, which he believes the public will accommodate to get this completed.

While the general feeling seems to be relief knowing there is a plan b, McClure said he shares the frustration of the city leadership at the speed the project seems to be taking.

“It seems to me that it was going a little slower than had been expected,” McClure said. “We’ve been waiting a long time for that road to get paved. The good news is it’s happening. I think in sixth months it will be something that’s not spoken of because it will be a beautiful road we all enjoy driving on…If for whatever reason it delays I want their equipment as far away from our annual festival as possible. It’s important we have transportation avenues open to get there.”

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