Historic City News reporters watched as a stream of nearly twenty citizens addressed the St Augustine City Commission and a packed Alcazar meeting room waited to hear the outcome of city manager John Regan’s plans to close two northbound entrances into the Nelmar Terrace neighborhood from SR-A1A; also known as May Street.
Under Regan’s proposal last night, neither Douglas Avenue nor Magnolia Avenue would accept inbound traffic. The two intersections, neither of which has a traffic signal, would serve as exits only — each allowing traffic to turn right (westbound) onto May Street.
“Changes aren’t coming immediately,” said Regan, repeating himself twice for emphasis. “The project still has to go through state permitting and will take about 90-days from start to finish.”
Of the public speakers, only two objected to closing the intersections; citing evacuation and the needs of emergency services to access the roadways. Regan did not agree with what he described as a perceived emergency need; pointing out that the city’s emergency plans never call for use of the neighborhood streets and that the side streets would not be used by police, fire, or rescue vehicles, as their goal would be to reach US-1 (Ponce de Leon Boulevard) as directly as possible.
St Johns County, on the other hand, expressed last minute concerns about the traffic pattern changes, including closure of the west end of East San Carlos Avenue at May Street. Commissioners were provided a copy of a letter from the county asking for delays.
Reports indicating increased speeds and lost control of vehicles had an enhanced concern expressed by Jeanne Glidden Prickett, EdD. The principal of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind pointed out that mobility classes for students at the PK-12 school rely on alert drivers and slow speed neighborhood traffic levels to create a safe environment for sighted and non-sighted students who are learning to navigate intersections and negotiate sidewalks on their own.
The commission seemed content to allow the city manager to make the decision of how he will proceed, their input, although invited, was not intended to trump Regan’s responsibility. The commission’s comments focused on the timing of implementation to allow the greatest possible window for drivers to learn the new traffic patterns.
“I get it, you don’t want me to roll this out on Nights of Lights opening,” Regan acknowledged. He went on to explain that could be his goal, but there are a lot of moving parts and until the day gets closer, he couldn’t predict the exact date when the changes would take place.
The greater priority discussed is the literally millions of taxpayer dollars at risk and invested in the acquisition and sale of the former 7-Eleven property at the intersection of May Street and San Marco Avenue. With the Florida Department of Transportation leading the way to completely re-engineer the traffic at that intersection, there are those who called for a delay to see what effects the improvements would provide.
A number of residents, most of whom fought to get the city to delay and rescind its permit to build the large-scale convenience store and gasoline station, spoke now to continue the accelerated development of the new traffic “peanut”.
Neither Regan nor the commission were inclined to further delay what has been identified as a traffic hazard for many years. Caution was urged, in light of what is known about the upcoming construction, not to invest too heavily in permanent modifications and infrastructure, but to continue to move forward with the street closures, considered to be “quick wins”, with all deliberate speed.
A sale of the residence at 1 Nelmar Avenue for about $130,000, was announced by Irene Areola and approved by the commission during the meeting. The house was part of the 7-Eleven property purchased by the city. The sale is for cash without contingencies.