Letter: Delay FDOT demolition of King Street

Letter: Delay FDOT demolition of King Street

Bruce A. Maguire
St Augustine, FL

Dear Editor:

The FDOT project to virtually shut down King Street for 10-12 months was a complete surprise to the business and residential community in and around King Street just a few short 10 days ago. On a Thursday afternoon, an announcement was made via an informal flyer distributed to open doorways along the entrance corridor that FDOT was holding a meeting at City Hall on the next Monday to present the project.

At the Monday meeting, FDOT told those attending that the project was under contract and demolition of the street would start in less than two weeks. The plan was devastating! What a shocker! To make it worse, the City staff attending the meeting showed no sympathy to the businesses as we were told to work with the FDOT to make it work.

The underlying problem is the lack of knowledge by anyone in the community, while two weeks notice prevented adequate planning by those businesses and residents. We cannot overlook the full extent of hardship caused by this failure.

Current businesses, as well as the residents, have been struggling through years of street construction and irregular traffic flow patterns, resulting in exhaustive traffic backups and delays. Four new businesses on King Street have opened or will be opening within the next month. How can they expect to draw new customers?

Our request is simple: Delay the project and we have presented five undeniable reasons to do so.

First, the City needs a break from street upheavals. We just got over the Bridge of Lions, Phase I of the King Street project, Phase I of the Riberia Street renovation and the West King Street project. Over the next 12 months, we are still to be hindered by construction on the new bridge on US1, the Valencia Street repair, the next Riberia Street upgrade and the upcoming sea wall construction. All of us need a chance to recover and enjoy the City before we launch into the next project.

Second, when we do the project, we need to do it right. That includes placing the power lines underground and adding streetscape as professed in the City’s TIGER II grant application in August, 2010. King Street is the primary entrance corridor for traffic from the south and the west, handling over 16,000 cars per day, yet it is visually the worst.

The City has made numerous token pledges to enhance the corridor, but never executed the commitment. Let’s do the entire project at one time rather than ignore it again.

Third, because they were not apprised of the project, the community has not prepared to handle the traffic flow. On summer weekends, the tourists from the south and west must transit through the neighborhoods because San Marco is already over capacity with over 16,000 cars. None of the residents between Valencia and Orange Streets have any idea how the 10,000+ cars diverted from King Street will traverse and park in their neighborhoods.

Also, the businesses on Aviles, Bridge and Cedar Streets don’t know how the tourists will manipulate the detour signs and traffic jams to reach their locations. The City parking garage cannot handle the demand and those who do park there will not walk to Rembrantz to shop.

Fourth, there is no good time to do the project, but the worst time is when there is inadequate planning. The project will extend through the heavy summer season and into the 2012 Nights of Lights. Remember the traffic congestion for the July 4th weekend. If we delay the project, businesses throughout the City can plan accordingly.

Finally, this is a City problem, not a King Street problem. I suspect the boat industry on Riberia Street could be the most severely impacted with businesses on King Street next. However, the City survives because of the tourist traffic. If the town becomes so congested that the tourists are turned off, they will stop coming and all the businesses will experience a decrease in activity.

For those who are concerned about losing the FDOT financing, the North Florida TPO has already assured us that the funds will be available in the future. As for the immediate necessity for the project, it was originally planned for the future until a request was made to complete it early.

FDOT has indicated their willingness to accept the position of the City Commission regarding the project. Our Commissioners must demand FDOT delay the project so we can plan and execute the best possible rehabilitation project for King Street and the City.

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