Road Construction Could Create Detour during 2005 Super Bowl; Jacksonville's Plan, Which Is More Aggressive Than Other Host Cities, Will Delay Completion Dates of Some Projects

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Byline: DAVID BAUERLEIN and MELISSA ROSS, The Times-Union and First Coast News

About a year from now, a hundred thousand Super Bowl visitors will be in buses, limousines, taxis and rental cars on Jacksonville's highways. Along the way, they will pass through construction zones that are deserted as ghost towns.

Most of the major road work that irritates Jacksonville residents on a daily basis will shut down for a three-week period before and after Super Bowl XXXIX.

In addition, three projects totaling about $175 million won't start until after the Super Bowl. Those are widening St. Johns Bluff Road, reconstructing Hendricks Avenue and rebuilding the accident-prone interchange of Interstate 10 and Interstate 95.

The break from road work will make travel easier for visitors, but everyday drivers will wait longer for construction to finish.

Mayor John Peyton said the trade-off is worth it.

"We've got an opportunity here to introduce our city to the world, and I think that largely outweighs any short-term expenses we may incur," Peyton said.

Rescheduling road work comes with the territory of being a Super Bowl city, according to interviews with officials from other cities that have hosted the game. But Jacksonville is using a more aggressive strategy to minimize construction-related delays and leave visitors with a favorable impression of the city.

The Florida Department of Transportation offered a $5 million bonus if the contractor can finish building a huge interchange at Interstate 95 and Interstate 295 in southeast Jacksonville before the Super Bowl. It would be the biggest bonus ever for a state road project, but state officials say it doesn't appear the contractor will collect it based on the current schedule.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is negotiating a fast-track bonus for widening Butler Boulevard between Belfort Road and Gate Parkway. That work is scheduled to end in late 2005, but the JTA wants all six lanes of the widened stretch to open before the Super Bowl.

If the interchange and Butler Boulevard aren't done in time, they will join other sites taking a construction holiday. The state Transportation Department and JTA are inserting language in contracts that will shut down work for two weeks before the Super Bowl for those who arrive early and one week after the game for tourists who extend their stays.

Visitors will still see signs of construction such as barricades and orange barrels. But contractors won't be able to block lanes or work close to the roads. They will pull back their equipment, cut the grass, and clean up trash.

"We want the roads to be as safe as possible, but we also want to use those portals as a gateway to the city, really show off the city, and make sure those areas are as presentable as possible," said Reid Sigmon, vice president of operations for the Jacksonville Super Bowl Host Committee.

In contrast, the Texas Department of Transportation didn't tell its contractors to stop work when Houston hosted the Super Bowl last Sunday.

"We by no means expect our contractors to camouflage or cover up any of their heavy equipment," said Janelle Gbur, spokeswoman for the Houston district of the Texas Department of Transportation. "We expect the contractors to be out there operating their heavy equipment, and that's what the public expects, too -- for the projects to move on."

She said the department considers construction activity a plus for the city's image.

"Some would say that's Houston's progress," she said. "The dynamic of the city, as such, is that we can move a large number of people at the same time $2 billion of road construction goes on."

Other Super Bowl cities -- Tampa, Miami and New Orleans -- saw their state transportation departments adjust work schedules for visitors, according to interviews with officials in those departments. …