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County eyes Aviation Blvd. extension to the hospital


With 37th Street – lined by dozens of medical offices, rehab facilities and imaging centers – nearing its maximum traffic capacity, county officials are devising a plan to make it easier to get to Indian River Medical Center from the west of town by extending Aviation Boulevard from U.S. 1 northeast to the hospital.

"We're very early in the process," county Public Works Director Rich Szpyrka said last week. "Right now, there's not much more than a sketch of where we think we're going to put the road."

The proposal, presented to county commissioners by Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Phil Matson two months ago as an alternative to widening 37th Street, calls for the extension of Aviation Boulevard across U.S. 1, through mostly vacant lots and intersecting with 35th Lane on the south edge of the hospital property.

Matson said the project – from purchasing the right-of-way needed for the road to its construction – probably will take five years to complete, "assuming we have the funding."

The cost of the project was not yet known.

In his PowerPoint presentation to commissioners attending the MPO's December meeting, Matson said extending Aviation Boulevard would ease a growing traffic congestion on 37th Street by diverting more than 5,600 trips per day to the new roadway within the first year, thus improving access to the hospital area.

Matson said the extension project would be less disruptive, less challenging and, possibly, less costly than widening 37th Street from its current three lanes to five – two lanes in each direction plus a center-turning lane.

"To widen 37th Street would be a daunting undertaking," Matson said last week. "There are more than 24 separate driveways, cross streets and access points in a 1.2-mile stretch that includes the hospital, a large number of medical offices and other related businesses.

"And with 37th Street already operating at 90 percent of capacity, you've got people coming and going all day long," he added.

"The construction required to widen the road would be a nightmare for people driving through there to get medical care.

"It makes more sense to find another route."

Matson, Szpyrka and county planners determined that a two-lane extension of Aviation Boulevard from its U.S. 1 intersection to the hospital area offered the most feasible solution – if the county can acquire the privately owned lots needed for the project.

Szpyrka said he will begin negotiations with the property owners once the exact route is selected.

"Going across U.S. 1, the land is pretty much vacant until you get closer to the hospital," Szpyrka said, "so the road would meander through a mostly undeveloped area and have as little effect on property owners as possible."

Matson said the county could purchase the property, offer to trade land parcels or ask for the right-of-way "in lieu of other considerations."

Both Matson and Szpyrka said the property owners might be eager for the county to build a road through their land.

"Building a road would increase the value of the property in the area, so they might even be willing to donate the land we need," Szpyrka said. "We'll discuss all that when we know what the final route looks like."

"The land is there with virtually nothing built on it," Matson said. "If we're ever going to get a new road in there – and we need one – now is the time."