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Spate of A1A projects driving motorists nuts

STORY BY PIETER VANBENNEKOM (Week of September 28, 2023)

Although the main issue facing motorists traveling to and from and the Vero Beach mainland is the recently started four-year effort to rebuild the 17th Street Bridge, a number of smaller construction projects along Highway A1A have added to motorists’ woes on the island’s main thoroughfare.

At least a half dozen areas of active construction along A1A from the southern part of the town of the Indian River Shores to the 17th Street causeway have turned the major traffic artery into what often looks more like an obstacle course.

“I wish they would have finished whatever they are doing on A1A before they started the lane closures on the 17th Street Bridge,” one Vero Beach policeman exclaimed in frustration recently. “This is not good for traffic. They delayed that bridge project so many times, what difference would it have made if they waited another couple of weeks so we can get all the stuff along A1A finished?“

Traveling south on A1A from Indian River Shores, motorists are first faced with the closure of Indian Lane on the west (lagoon) side of the highway. Shores Town Clerk Janice Rutan said this is part of a project by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and Florida Gas to install the infrastructure for bringing natural gas to the island.

Fliers were distributed to area residents last month saying the project would start Aug. 26 and last for one week, until Sept. 1. However, construction started a day late and three weeks later, the street was still closed off – access is only via Seminole Lane one block further south.

Two backhoes from TB Landmark Construction Co. of Jacksonville along with trucks full of gravel and pipes were parked at the end of the street, completely blocking the road, along with a smelly porta potty. It had been days since any construction workers had been seen at the site.

“We understand (the project) is moving forward now after some internal delays,” Rutan said.

Just a couple of blocks further south, construction vehicles have been going into and out of the Pebble Bay development off A1A where a pavement repair and stormwater runoff improvement project started last May. Rutan said final repaving was scheduled to start Sept. 25 and be completed in a week.

Across the street on the ocean side, construction vehicles have been turning in and out of two new housing developments, Surfsedge and just south of it, Indigo on the site of the old Tracking Station.

Just a few yards further south, a big Ditch Witch machine is still parked along the west side of A1A where crews have been working for the past couple of weeks on a “trenching project,” according to Rutan. For several days last week, as a big water tanker truck was parked along the road’s shoulder, southbound traffic was diverted via orange construction cones to the middle turn lane.

Perhaps the biggest hassles await motorists further south along A1A as they approach the traffic light at Beachland Boulevard. On the east (ocean) side of the road, the new sidewalk between the bridges appears to be basically finished. But now big concrete barriers have been put up along the west side of the road between Beachland and the private Quail Valley club, and little activity seems to have taken place in the last few days.

That project is still slated for completion sometime this fall, but on-demand pedestrian crossing lights still need to be added. Start and end dates for FDOT construction project have not enjoyed a great amount of credibility in the past.

A major new bottleneck has emerged at the intersection of A1A and Beachland for southbound A1A traffic turning right onto Beachland to head for the Merrill P. Barber Bridge to cross to the mainland. Crews are working to extend the righthand turn lane and make it longer, as well as install new culverts to improve drainage, a pet project of County Commissioner Laura Moss, a former Vero Beach city councilwoman.

But while the work is going on, there is no right-hand turn lane at all  – a problem aggravated by the fact that traffic volume across the Barber Bridge has increased because of the diminished traffic capacity on the 17th Street Bridge. Especially in the late afternoon when contractors and other workers return to the mainland from work sites on the island, traffic has often backed up on A1A for several blocks, an unusual sight for Vero Beach in the supposedly “light” summer months before snowbirds return.

Motorists trying to avoid that bottleneck intersection by taking Indian River Drive East past the Marina and Yacht Club would do well to drive slowly, since the speed limit on that winding street is only 25 mph and the Vero Beach Police Department frequently sets speed traps along that road.