By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- The state Department of Transportation will be making some big changes in State Road 44 from Myrtle Avenue west to Samsula and gave residents a chance to talk about it April 16 at City Hall.
Chief among residents' concerns was congestion at the Wallace Road-Old Mission Road intersection and restricted access across the median proposed for several side streets.
Residents suggested altering the timing of the signal at the Wallace/Old Mission intersection to coordinate with the light at the Publix shopping center. City officials stated that they have been tweaking the timing of that signal but each time they change it in one direction, they get complaints about the timing in the other direction.
DOT Representative Justin Bansen said one of the short-term actions is to create an eastbound turn lane at Mission and Wallace, which should alleviate some of the congestion. "It is not easy, though, because that land belongs to the Kangaroo (convenience store) and we have to negotiate with the owners and there are some engineering issues. It is definitely on our radar, however and is a valid improvement," Mr. Bansen said.
DOT's plan is two-fold, including near-term projects to be completed within the next five years and long-term proposals that could stretch beyond 10 years. One of the immediate improvements is to reinstate the turn signal at Sugar Mill Road and S.R. 44 by the end of this year. They are also adjusting the westbound off-ramp from Interstate 95 so people will have to stop before entering traffic on S.R. 44. They also plan to extend the loop on the other ramp through the intersection. DOT is trying to solicit funding for these near-term projects.
Eventually they would like to install a bike lane and sidewalk on each side of S.R. 44 along the corridor. They plan to do this by narrowing the median instead of taking land from the edges of the road.
"The outside curb of S.R. 44 will remain the same," Mr. Bansen said. "People living along the edge will not lose any land. We want to link up with the other bike trails to make it more usable by bicyclists."
The bike trails and sidewalks will be separated from the car lanes by a curb and narrow strip of land, according to DOT drawings.
When the median is narrowed to install the bike lanes, DOT plans to restrict access across 44 on several of the side streets. Several citizens objected to this idea, claiming the restrictions would add more congestion at the Wallace/Mission and Glencoe Road intersections.
Mr. Bansen said studies have shown it is safer for people to do U-turns than to cross divided highways to make a left turn into traffic. "Many people don't make it a two-step process by crossing first one side of the highway, stopping and then merging into the traffic on the other side. Restricting the access on the smaller side streets will make it safer," he said.
According to DOT maps, Linda, Ellison, Fran, King and Oak streets will no longer have access across the median. Corbin, Canal and Park streets will have restricted left turn only access off S.R. 44, but people will not be able to cross from those side streets to turn left onto S.R. 44. They will have to turn right and go to the next signal and make a U-turn to go in the opposite direction.
Other ideas include eventually extending Airport Road across S.R. 44 and extending Colony Park Road to Otter or Pioneer Trail to allow access for residents behind the Home Depot and from Williams Road. DOT officials stated there are some engineering issues with both of those extensions due to the swampy terrain and alignment of existing roads. They are examining the suggestions, but have no plans to implement those changes.
Another plan city officials have requested is the eventual creation of a service road on the north side of S.R. 44 from Glencoe to Linda to allow two-way access to the new businesses they are expecting to open once Mullinax Ford is operational.
"People will be able to access the service road at each end and traverse to those shops without needing to enter the 44 traffic while shopping," City Manager Pam Brangaccio said. "It should make it safer and relieve some congestion on the highway."
Ms. Brangaccio said this is a plan for several years in the future and new businesses will be required to build with the service road in mind.
Mr. Bansen assured residents there would be future public meetings where citizens will be able to state their opinions and make suggestions. "We are definitely taking your suggestions to heart and want to continue to receive community feedback," he said.
More information about the proposed changes along S.R. 44 can be found on DOT's web page at www.fladot.com and includes a feedback form to submit comments.