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$4.6 million road project coming to Indian River Boulevard next year


Traffic jams like those island residents have sporadically endured for months on Highway A1A will be coming to Indian River Boulevard just across the river early next year.

That is when construction begins on a $4.6 million resurfacing and bike lane project that will extend from the Merrill Barber Bridge to the road’s terminus at 53rd Street, where it feeds into U.S. 1. just beyond Grand Harbor.

The majority of the 40 or so people who showed up at a public workshop on the project last Thursday were bike enthusiasts who, for the most part, complained loudly that the proposed bike lanes would be 5 feet wide rather than 7 feet wide as they are on the section of A1A being resurfaced on the island.

Indian River County Assistant Public Works Director James Ennis explained several times that requirements for state roadways such as A1A are different than those for county roads like Indian River Boulevard.

He said changes to the project that would have to occur to accommodate 7-foot bike lanes would not only cost much more but also render the county ineligible for state grant funding, because the project would no longer qualify in the “maintenance” grant category.

When an audience member asked why the county doesn’t wait until the money for wider bike lanes becomes available, Ennis said that the road would likely be more deteriorated, and less safe, at that point, and far more expensive to repair or replace.  

Built in the 1990s as part of the county’s long-range plan, and last resurfaced in 2013, the well-traveled stretch is a major county arterial roadway of “critical importance in maintaining an infrastructure that will keep pace” with commercial and residential development, officials said.

According to FDOT data, the current daily load on this 3-mile stretch is 25,500 vehicles per day.

The project will be funded through a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation Small County Outreach Program, which provides 75 percent of the agreed-upon cost but can only be used for specific kinds of projects – maintenance, in this case.  

“We’re getting 3 to 1 on the county’s money,” Ennis said.

But there is a caveat. Ennis explained that there is “a five-year lead time between grant application and project construction commencement.

The county applied in 2017, at which time it was required to identify major project components and provide a cost estimate. In the ensuing five years, though, construction costs have become “volatile” due to COVID-19, unstable commodity prices, materials shortages and heavy contractor workloads.

The county’s final cost estimate – $4,660,176 – must be submitted to FDOT by June, Ennis said, but by the time bids come in early next year, “the costs could be a lot more, maybe 20 to 30 percent,” which will be the county’s responsibility.

Even in such an uncertain economic and construction climate, the resurfacing should not be postponed, Ennis said. The worn roadway must be resurfaced before it deteriorates to the point where the base layers are damaged, which would cost significantly more to restore.

Currently, the roadway has grass medians, limited water quality treatment and inconsistently paved shoulder widths. The intersections do not have through-lane shoulders and bike lanes are not marked.

In addition to a new road surface, planned improvements include median and water treatment upgrades; shoulder widening to a consistent 5 feet throughout the project; and removing and realigning shoulders within intersections so bikers won’t have to move into traffic lanes. In addition, restriping and additional signage will designate bikeways, and high-contrast markings will further identify bike lanes at intersections that have dedicated right-turn lanes. 

As to the inescapable traffic slow-downs during construction – which is slated to begin in March 2022 and wrap up in February 2023 – Ennis said at least one lane will always be open and no stretches of Indian River Boulevard or cross streets will be completely blocked off.

With any luck, the A1A project will be complete, and traffic will be flowing freely on the island long before it bogs down on the mainland.