By Dale Martin
September 23, 2022
Although the most significant highlight of Tuesday evening’s City Commission meeting was the adoption of the budget for next year, another notable effort by the City Commission gave approval to continue the planned enhancements along Front Street and the Amelia River waterfront.
The most anticipated project is the re-opening of the long-ago closed Alachua Street railroad crossing. That project, though, remains delayed due to the release of federal (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and state (Florida Department of Emergency Management) funds. These funds have been awarded to the City for hazard mitigation – an effort to reduce the effect of flooding related to tidal and storm surges in the Alachua Street area – but state officials have stymied the release of the funds (which the City is now on the cusp of losing). The exchange of messages began with a February plea for assistance to Sen. Bean, who promptly coordinated a meeting between state and City staff.
From that original February message through early July, information has been requested, provided, and exchanged over 20 times between the state and City staff, primarily related to ground disturbance, engineering, and electrical issues. Final resolution still remains elusive. While those issues remain outstanding, the project has also been stymied with the delivery of pumps that are required for the stormwater improvements. Those pumps originally required a 34-week lead time to order and now, nearly a full year later, the pumps have yet to be delivered.
The stormwater improvements are the first component of re-opening the Alachua Street crossing. Large vaults (which have been delivered and currently rest near Alachua Street) will be buried beneath the reconstructed Alachua Street to provide stormwater storage and drainage for the properties in the vicinity of Alachua Street and N. Second Street. Instead of having to develop individual stormwater systems in that area, those property owners will be able to “buy capacity” in the underground vaults for stormwater management. The road can’t be built until the vaults are installed and the vaults can’t be installed until the funding is released and the pumps have arrived.
In the meantime, enhancements elsewhere on Front referenced earlier will move into construction. One part of the enhancements was completed a few years ago – the sidewalk connecting Ash Street to Centre Street on the east side of the railroad tracks. A fence separating the sidewalk from the railroad tracks (to prevent pedestrians from crossing the railroad tracks) was part of that sidewalk project, but was delayed due to design efforts, cost estimates, and final approvals. With revisions to the original design to reduce cost, the Historic District Council granted approval to proceed last week and the City Commission approved the funding for the installation of the fence. The fence will eventually also extend from Centre Street to Alachua Street.
With the cooperation of a property owner abutting N. Front Street and Alachua Street, the City will construct a new sidewalk extending from where the sidewalk on N. Front Street currently ends at the Salty Pelican north to Alachua Street. The property owner sought (and was granted) approval from the Historic District Council to demolish the small, dilapidated structure near Alachua Street to facilitate the sidewalk and fence construction. An easement agreement is being completed for the construction and maintenance of these enhancements.
In addition to the fence and sidewalk, “highback” curbs will be constructed between Front Street and the railroad tracks from Ash to Alachua Street. These curbs are for additional safety to prevent vehicles from encroaching onto the railroad tracks. The early safety concept had fences on both sides of the railroad tracks, but that concept was reviewed and determined to be impractical (and more dangerous).
The space needed to add a fence on the west side of the railroad tracks would have made additional improvements to N. Front Street unlikely – the road right-of-way is too narrow between Centre and Alachua Streets to accommodate all the desired amenities: two-way traffic, on-street parking, and a sidewalk (on the west side of N. Front Street). At railroad officials’ recommendation, the highback curbs have been substituted in lieu of a fence. This will at least provide sufficient space for the road to support two-way traffic. The additional space needed for possibly parking and sidewalks may come with future waterfront development efforts.
Also, due to the loss of parking on N. Front Street, a designated loading zone will be constructed off N. Front Street at the north end of the City Parking Lot (commonly called “Parking Lot A”). This loading zone will support Marina and commercial operations on N. Front Street.
Finally, the utilities along N. Front Street are also slated to be buried this year. The project has been budgeted for at least two years, but the necessary sequencing of projects and agency coordination has thwarted quicker implementation.
When these “smaller” projects have been completed, the major re-opening project of Alachua Street will then be able to proceed. I look forward to the completion of these waterfront and safety projects.