By Wilma Allen
The median strips along state Route 200, as you drive to and from Amelia Island, are looking pretty grim lately. They are being prepped for landscaping, the final phase of the road widening project that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has been working on for years and years.
FDOT is responsible for the construction and maintenance of this state road. The budget is $6.9 million for landscaping the entire project from Interstate Highway 95 east to Old Nassauville Road, just before the Shave Bridge. About 40% of this $2.9 million budget is earmarked for the busiest section of highway between Old Nassauville Road, and U.S. Highway 17 in Yulee. It stretches roughly 6.5 miles, past Lowe’s, two car dealerships, Walmart Supercenter, three car washes, big box and grocery stores, multiple shopping centers and gas stations, doctors and dentists, banks, restaurants, a school, government buildings and many more. Parking lots, asphalt, traffic lights, busy intersections and turn lanes abound in both directions. Mature trees and naturally wooded areas along the route are in short supply.
According to FDOT’s website, FDOT.gov, the department’s policy when constructing and maintaining state highways, is “to conserve, protect, restore, and enhance Florida’s natural resources and scenic beauty.” This policy enables Florida to have: “the nation’s most beautiful highways that attract and grow business; safe roadsides that are durable, and ecologically and economically sustainable; measurable returns on investments that grow in value over time.” Motorist safety and visibility are top priorities, but FDOT’s landscape design strategy aims to “enhance Florida’s distinctive sense of place, create lasting curb appeal, and minimize the cost to conserve and maintain high-quality landscapes.”
Highly detailed landscape plans indicate that islands here and there along this section of roadway, will be planted with clusters of hardy trees and shrubs. These include cathedral live oaks, slash pine, cabbage palms of various sizes, coontie palms, and saw palmetto. Sod and perennial peanut (the pretty yellow flowers on Amelia Island’s Eighth Street median) will be used as ground cover. Most of the plants will be placed in curving beds in the least developed stretches of roadway – the Mt. Zion Loop area, across from the Target/Home Depot shopping center, and west, past Miner Road. In addition, clumps of trees will be wedged between several entrances and exits along the route. Beyond Miner Road, there is less development and more trees are possible. Trees, set back on the sides of the road, appear to be the responsibility of the property owners.
Extensive irrigation and drainage plans are well underway to keep the plants healthy. Planting will be next. This means construction delays will likely continue for many more months. But by this time next year, if the landscaping lives up to FDOT’s stated policy, there may finally be something attractive to enhance this now bleak gateway to Amelia Island.