Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Outer Beltway Looks Good in Pink; the State Goes along with Counties for Route Linking Clay, St. Johns

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Outer Beltway Looks Good in Pink; the State Goes along with Counties for Route Linking Clay, St. Johns

Article excerpt


The long-planned outer beltway cleared another hurdle this week when the Florida Department of Transportation revealed its long-awaited route preference, a 20-mile southerly corridor known as the "pink" route.

Many hurdles lie ahead.

The next steps for DOT are defining the exact alignment, obtaining right of way and securing a waft of permits, all part of a project development and environmental study expected to be completed by late 2007 or early 2008. And the biggest step will be identifying funding for the $1.8 billion project, which may require building it as a toll road.

But on Tuesday, as Clay and St. Johns county residents pored over maps outlining the pink route, they were more concerned with the decision that had been made and how it would affect their property than the decisions yet to come.

"It suits me," said Gerald Roberts of Green Cove Springs. "I think it's the right way to go."

Mike Jordan and Nick Morris, who both live in the Crosswinds subdivision off Florida 16 in the Orangedale community, breathed a sigh of relief.

The proposed 65-foot-tall, four-lane beltway bridge across the St. Johns River, which will replace the existing 45-foot-tall, two-lane Shands Bridge between Clay and St. Johns counties, will dump traffic into St. Johns near their homes south of the beltway, but not on top of them.

"It turned out to be pretty good for us," said Jordan.

Also, they said the beltway might ease traffic congestion on Florida 13 heading from St. Johns County into Jacksonville.

Morris said he preferred a more northerly route, but was not displeased with the DOT selection.

"It doesn't look too bad. It could be worse," he said. "On paper, it looks all right."

Dean and Sarah Smoak, who own 15 acres off Florida 16 west of Green Cove Springs, a half-mile from a proposed beltway interchange, agreed.

"We'll have great access," Dean Smoak said.

Also, their family and other nearby property owners may benefit financially from the commercial development likely to occur around the interchange, he said.

"That will be a major, major commercial area," he said. "It'll make our grandkids wealthy."

The so-called pink route was one of four proposed corridors - the others were labeled purple, brown and black - that DOT has been considering. The route the agency prefers begins at the proposed interchange of Branan Field Road and Blanding Boulevard and heads in a southeasterly direction past Florida 16, where it begins heading east to northeast to the Shands Bridge.

The beltway bridge will cross the St. Johns River along the same alignment as the aging Shands, which is expected to be more than 180 percent over capacity by 2030 if no new river crossings are built, DOT officials said. The Shands will be demolished or partly used as a fishing bridge once the four-lane span is complete, they said. …

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