Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Long-Term Planning for Roads; Pair of Projects Being Supported by Many

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Long-Term Planning for Roads; Pair of Projects Being Supported by Many

Article excerpt

Byline: R. Michael Anderson, County Line staff writer

Plans for the future movement of traffic through Clay County have long included two projects that would cost many millions of dollars and take many years to complete.

One envisions what county commissioners and economic development advocates have termed the "Outer Beltway," a corridor providing a link between Interstate 10 on Jacksonville's Westside, via Branan Field-Chaffee Road, to I-95 in St. Johns County.

The route would follow a path generally through the Middleburg and Lake Asbury areas and cross the St. Johns River near Green Cove Springs, possibly on a widened Shands Bridge or an entirely new span.

Cost estimates for the Outer Beltway range from about $246 million to $265 million.

The second ambitious transportation project being promoted by county government and business leaders is a proposed southerly extension of College Drive, which terminates in the Tara Farms community a few blocks south of County Road 220.

Owners of large tracts of woodland that stand in the path of the proposed route have offered to donate 100-foot-wide strips of land for right of way to the county. Their payoff would come from the increased value of the rest of their property once access to the land opens it up for development.

The estimated cost to extend College Drive across Black Creek approximately 9 miles to Florida 16 near the county fairgrounds is $46.5 million.

LONG-TERM PROJECT

The Clay County Chamber of Commerce sent a group of business leaders to Washington earlier this year to meet with federal officials and urge their assistance in seeking funds to initiate the Outer Beltway project. County commissioners also have appealed to Florida's congressional delegation for help on the project.

But because of the costs, environmental concerns and the overall size of the project, nobody really expects it to materialize for many years, if ever.

"To be perfectly honest about it, I'll never see it done in my lifetime -- unless we can tie it in to the nation's defense system," said County Commission Chairman Larry Lancaster, who is 55.

Maybe, he said, the government might fund the project if federal authorities became convinced that building the Outer Beltway would make sense from a military preparedness standpoint, since it would provide a vital link between Florida National Guard Headquarters in St. Augustine, Camp Blanding in Clay County, and I-10 in Jacksonville.

But whether he ever sees it or not, Lancaster said, he feels obligated to do whatever he can to get the road built for the county's future economic well-being and to alleviate traffic congestion on existing roads like Blanding Boulevard and U.S. 17.

"If we don't do our work now," he said, "commissioners in 25 years will be saying, 'Why didn't they do something in 2000? …

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