By DOTTY NIST
The state is proceeding with efforts to multi-lane the U.S. 331 bay bridge and other portions of the highway as far north as I-10, but plans have been announced to remove a one-mile portion on the south side of DeFuniak Springs from an existing contract for the highway expansion.
Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) District 3 Secretary Tommy Barfield recently updated county commissioners on the change and on progress with the road improvements.
The update was provided at the July 22 Walton County Board of County Commissioners meeting at the Walton County Courthouse.
Barfield said he was” excited and proud” at what had been accomplished through the partnership between DOT and Walton County in connection with ongoing multi-laning of U.S. 331.
Reporting on the bridge expansion, Barfield said that project is in the design and permitting phase, with some preliminary work in progress, including soil mixing for the bridge causeway. A contract for that project was awarded in June 2013 and executed in July 2013, he reported. It is anticipated that it will be completed in July 2016, Barfield said.
Multi-laning for the section between the bridge and SR-20 was awarded as a separate contact, and construction has been underway approximately since June 2012, Barfield continued. He was hopeful that contractor Anderson Columbia would be able to shift traffic to the newly constructed highway construction in August. The anticipated completion date on this segment was tentatively reported as November 2015.
Barfield explained that the multi-laning project between SR-20 and I-10 is divided into three segments. These are the 2 1/2 mile section from Nokuse Plantation to Edgewood Circle , the section from SR20 to Owl’s Head, and the section from Edgewood Circle to I-10. This is a design-build project on which Anderson Columbia and HDR are contractors.
Barfield reported the Nokuse to Edgewood Circle section as being under construction, the second section in final design with clearing and grubbing in process, and the third also in design, with right-of-way acquisition undergoing.
Barfield said that 80 percent of the 61 parcels needed for right-of-way in connection with the Edgewood Circle to I-10 section had been acquired by DOT.
He gave February 2016 as the anticipated completion date for the three sections.
Regarding the Edgewood Circle to I-10 section, Barfield told the commissioners, “We’re been having some issues with some of our right-of-way acquisition.” He explained that this had been in connection with DOT’s efforts to acquire some property from Healthmark Regional Medical Center.
Barfield announced that, due to difficulty obtaining property for the multi-laning from Healthmark, “our plans are, we’re going to remove that one-mile section that’s basically adjacent to the hospital, we’re going to remove that out of our current contract and…we’re going to actually redesign that particular segment and basically try and shift as much as we can to the west to relieve the impact to the hospital as much as we possibly can.”
“We’re going to narrow up that typical section a little bit,” Barfield continued. “We’re going to put in some retaining walls—and this is at substantial cost to the department…it’s going to cost a few million dollars to do this, and it’s going to delay the project probably for a couple of years.”
“So, what you’re going to see,” Barfield told the commissioners, “is you’ll see probably multi-lane sections to the north and south of that segment and then there’ll be a transition from the four lanes down to the single lanes in each direction.”
He detailed that, once the one-mile section had been redesigned as a two-lane project, DOT would move forward with the acquisition of the property still needed from the hospital for construction of the project section.
Barfield said that, aside from the one-mile portion adjacent to the hospital, DOT was continuing to acquire the property needed for four-laning along the segment.
“But we felt like that with the importance of the hospital and trying to give them some consideration to the impacts to their facilities that this was probably the best way to move forward with that,” he commented.
“I know that the hospital is not completely satisfied and certainly not pleased with our approach at this point, but I still think that’s the right thing to do, and that’s really what we’re going to do,” Barfield explained. He reported that the project contractor was not pleased with the decision either.
Barfield said he has received questions from the public on why the one-mile section was being removed from the contract. “I did not want to extend the contract time for the other segments of the remaining portion of the multi-laning and add two years of time to that,” he said in explanation.
Barfield pledged that DOT would take an aggressive approach with the one-mile portion, obtaining a contractor to do the design and bidding that portion separately from the remainder of the highway project.
“And we’ll basically fill in the gap between the two segments,” he said.
Barfield said some of the added costs that DOT would incur as a result of the action were due to the resulting need to “build two transitions from the four lanes down to the two lanes.”
“There are some transitions that are out there today.” he told the commissioners. “The original plan was to try to do this seamlessly so that you did not have these transitions.”
Although handling the one-mile section separately would result in increased cost to DOT, it would also reduce the price of the original contract somewhat, Barfield noted.
Walton County Commission Chairman Bill Chapman asked Barfield if time would be required for environmental studies on the one-mile section. Barfield responded that DOT would not be conducting environmental studies for the section, as they planned to stay within the corridor previously approved in the environmental permitting process.
Following the redesign and development of new right-of -way maps for the section, Barfield said DOT planned to go to the hospital to try to settle with them for the needed right-of-way.
If that effort does not succeed, he envisioned that DOT would “go to court to hopefully receive title” of the needed right-of-way “through the order of taking.”
Asked for an estimated schedule for completion of the one-mile section, Barfield said he was not able to provide one at the present time due to the possibility of multiple delays and/or challenges to DOT’s plans for the section.
He also explained that, since the project would be handled as bid-build, in contrast with the remainder of the multi-laning,which had been design-build, it would be necessary to have the right-of-way “in hand” prior to advertising for bids on the section
Barfield pledged to continue to keep the BCC updated on progress with the expansion of U.S. 331.
He was questioned about the impact of the multi-laning project on driveways along the corridor. Barfield responded that the project would be built to maintain existing driveways, although property owners might not be able to turn right and left onto U.S. 331 from their property as they had in the past due to medians to be constructed. He said service roads would be used wherever possible to maintain property owner’s access to the highway while reducing the number of median cuts required.
Property owners developing their property and needing new driveways would be able to obtain permits for driveways, Barfield explained, adding that the department’s policy is to assure owners of property along the highway access to the state road system.
He encouraged property owners to get in contact with DOT as soon as possible regarding their needs in order to prevent redoing of road sections to accommodate those needs.