By REID TUCKER
The Paxton Town Council hashed things out with representatives from the Florida Department of Transportation, putting together a plan of action for public workshops regarding the imminent four-laning of U.S. 331.
FDOT’s Peggy Kelley and Ralph Bove, assistant VP with Parsons Brinkerhoff, Florida’s contracted construction consultation firm, attended the Town Council’s Aug. 19 regular meeting, bringing with them plans to secure the raw traffic data and public input needed to make the best decision possible for Paxton.
“Part of this process is working with communities,” Bove said. “I don’t want to go back to my office five hours away and work all this stuff up and then come back and say ‘here’s the plan.’ I want to come back up here with open arms and with maps and say ‘let’s solve this together.’”
Bove said traffic data gathered during Spring Break and on July Fourth weekend is already being analyzed, while FDOT’s late July meeting in Paxton proved equally fruitful, bringing to light the concerns of local officials and area residents alike. Though several options have been discussed at this point, Councilman Tommy Mathis spoke in favor of having the four-lane highway bypass Paxton, similar to how the renovated two-lane highway bypassed the city of Freeport. Mathis said town residents he’s spoken with are mostly concerned with pedestrian safety, given the close proximity of the Dixie Youth Baseball complex and Paxton School to the already busy highway.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people here in town, and that’s, generally speaking, what they seem to be in favor of. They don’t want four-lane traffic coming together with kids getting out of school or school buses getting out on the highway. They don’t want four-lane traffic when we’re having ballgames at night when we’ve got people parking on both sides of the highway….
“Some people say it would make Paxton a dead town, but I don’t think it’ll make Paxton any more of a dead town than it is now, because I don’t see through-traffic stopping here very much.”
Though no exact plans have yet been finalized on the four-laning project, which won’t wrap up on 331 North for another several years, the most-discussed solution calls for a bypass around Paxton. Under this plan, a newly constructed stretch of four-lane highway would take a short jog, joining up with County Highway 285 to link with Alabama Highway 54 at the state border. Bove reassured the Council, saying it is likely possible to engineer a four-lane design solution that does not pose a substantial negative impact on pedestrian safety within the Paxton town limits.
The Council voted 5-0 in favor of tabling the issue until November, when FDOT has scheduled another round of community workshops. FDOT will gather public comment at that time and combine it with the figures gained from traffic studies to formulate a variety of possible solutions to be presented in Paxton come February 2015. At that time, Kelley said, the state agency will have put “lines on the map.”
Whatever the decision ultimately ends up being, Kelley and Bove insisted that no matter what there would be no effect on the roadway improvements, including passing lanes, already planned for the stretch of 331 running through Paxton.
In other Council news, the board voted 5-0 to adopt an ordinance enabling the city to set utilities rates via resolution instead of the old process that required the city ordinance be amended each time. City Attorney Clay Adkinson said the new ordinance will streamline the process in the future in terms of time required as well as with regard to advertising costs on the increasingly lengthy original ordinance.
By REID TUCKER