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Public debates proposed safety corridor

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By Mark Scohier

A new state-funded “safety corridor” in Cedar Key for bicyclists and pedestrians  is in the works along State Road 24, though the public is in disagreement on just how and where the corridor should be built.

City officials held the first public workshop on the matter Feb. 13, with about 40 members of the public showing up to voice their support and concerns.

“For many years, for about two decades, the area between No. 3 and No. 4 has been a concern for safety,” said City Commissioner Heath Davis to the audience. The matter has gotten worse as more businesses, such as clamming facilities, a restaurant, hotel and RV campground, have opened in the area, he said. “There’s just a lot more going on.”

The Florida Department of Transportation, like some city officials and residents, has its concerns for safety there, as well, and had budgeted about $250,000 for the project, which must have a final plan in order by June, according to engineers working on the proposed corridor.

 The agency has been looking at addressing the problem for a long time, Davis said, though now it has fast-tracked the issue, hoping to take advantage of the easements that will already be disturbed once the Cedar Key Water and Sewer District begins construction on new water and sewer lines in the area.

Davis said the negative to having FDOT pay for it is that the agency will require the corridor to meet specific requirements.

Rory Causseaux, president of Causseaux Hewitt & Walpole Inc., the engineering firm for the project, said he and his team have already spent some time looking at options for the corridor. No plan is set in stone, yet, he said, though the engineers are trying to design the corridor so it falls within FDOT and CKWSD right-of-ways.

Monique Heathcock, a CHW engineer, said FDOT has requirements for the type of materials used, slope for drainage and distance from the road, all of which may limit options for the proposed corridor.

One audience member said she was glad a project is underway, adding that she was surprised how many people walk down S.R. 24 between the two bridges. “It’s a miracle no one’s been run over,” she said.

Another man, Russ Weaver, of Ohio, said he has been vacationing at Cedar Key for 30 years and was concerned that the project might involve the construction of retaining walls that could ruin the view coming into town along S.R. 24. He said he’s seen the roadside views of vistas in Ohio “completely eliminated” by such projects.

Causseaux said FDOT’s setbacks, being a minimum of 6 feet from the road, would eliminate the need for walls or guardrails in most cases. “This would be the type of situation we would prefer to eliminate or minimize,” he said.

“I think the aesthetics there are really important,” Weaver said, adding that the people in Ohio would not have approved of the project there if they had known the view would be obstructed.

Leslie Sturmer, another audience member, said she feels this to be “a very challenging project.” She wanted to know how much of the corridor would be able to meet the 6-foot setback. “Any of it?”

“For the most part,” Causseaux said, “there are adequate land rights, and there’s adequate space,” later stating that about 40 percent of the project, as the corridor gets closer to town, is where the most difficulties would be encountered.

There are some obstacles closer to town, he said, such as a few manmade objects and right-of-ways too close to the road. “Might be challenging,” he said, though adding that FDOT might be willing to bend on some of the guidelines.

Sturmer also asked about the types of materials to be used, suggesting that the corridor use porous materials that allow for drainage in certain areas.

Causseaux said porous materials often cost more, wear quicker and present a safety hazard for people such as himself who happen to “drag their feet” when they walk.  And FDOT will not maintain some materials, such as wood, he said.

Commissioner Sue Colson said a local clammer had expressed to her concern for water quality in the area, suggesting that sheet flow from the road might negatively affect aquaculture.

“DOT is safety conscious,” she said, “not necessarily water-quality conscious.”

Colson also said the city has used porous materials in other areas where water quality was a concern.

“I know that it is an expensive thing, but maybe used in particular areas …”

“We know that drainage is a concern,” Causseaux said, adding that it might be of benefit, where the budget allows, to look at using different materials.

Colson said it’s important in sensitive areas to allow the water to filter through. She asked if there was money in the plan to include vegetative buffers, which would slow the flow of water down.

Causseaux said that, yes, such buffers were being considered.

Another issue with the proposed corridor is that making use of FDOT’s easements would involve the construction of three crosswalks, making the corridor stretch down both sides of the road at intervals. Some were against this idea, especially considering that some of the crosswalks might be located near heavily traveled businesses, such as the clamming facilities that see a constant flow of large trucks.

“It is dangerous,” said Shawn Stevenson, owner of Southern Cross Sea Farms Inc., stating his opposition to the project entirely. “Walking down 24 is not my idea of … you know, you’re encouraging people to walk down by putting in sidewalks.”

Colson later said that sidewalks or portions of the corridor should not be located in front of the clamming facilities. “This is high pressure,” she said, referring to the amount of trucks in and out.

Another man, owning property along the proposed corridor, said he was worried about his property rights if agency right-of-ways were not used. Causseaux said that he would still own the property as an easement and that terms could be put into an agreement specifying certain rights.

The man also said he was worried that if his easement was used, it would force him to park on a portion of the paved corridor. “I really don’t see how we’re going to be able to use our property with a sidewalk there,” he said.

Causseaux said his team would be putting together several estimates of options considering cost, safety, pedestrian pros and cons and impacts on businesses. Plans will be presented at the Cedar Key City Redevelopment Agency meetings during the next three months. 

The public is encouraged to attend.