It was an unceremonious reopening: no governor, no state lawmakers, no county commissioners, as had been the case for less consequential milestones along the road in recent years. But a little more than 300 days into the latest reconstruction of that storm-battered road, both lanes of State Road A1A reopened to traffic at 3:55 p.m. today.
A stately old Pontiac was the very first vehicle to drive across the new road, according to City Commissioner Rick Belhumeur, who marked the occasion with a picture. “A nice early Christmas present to those that own homes along the Central Avenue Detour,” Belhumeur said.
City Manager Larry Newsom was as close to giddy as Newsom gets as he marked the opening of the road with a couple of pictures, one of them of himself athwart the median, his yellow parka a perfect match to the yellow-brick-road-like yellowness of the road’s lines, beneath the kind of stormy skies that A1A is so familiar with.
“It’s officially open, they’re running in both directions,” Newsom said. “It helps restore the quality of life and that’s what we’re trying to do.” He said the 9,000 vehicles a day that had been pushed over to Central Avenue will now return to A1A. “The project is not done yet but the lanes are open.”
The nearly year-long, $22.4 million project was actually the third upheaval in three years for businesses along A1A and residents along Central Avenue. Hurricane Matthew had ravaged the 1.4 mile length of the project between South 7th and South 23rd, washing out to sea tons of revetment boulders and chopping up much of the road to shreds, causing it to close entirely to traffic in late 2016. By early 2017, an emergency Department of Transportation project rebuilt a makeshift, two-lane road while trucks and bulldozers dumped and sculpted new mounds of revetments, a project that itself kept traffic detoured on Central Avenue and seafront businesses scrambling to attract customers. There was a period of calm.
Then last March the transportation department began the reconstruction of the permanent road with its new median and French drains dug through those medians. The draining system is expected to considerably reduce flooding along the road. The new design is also intended to add a bit more esthetics, at the cost of smaller lanes, to the stretch of road. The stretches of A1A north and south of the project won’t be touched.
“The opening of the road is a morale boost,” Flagler Beach Commissioner Eric Cooley, who also owns the 7-Eleven on A1A, just north of the beginning of the project, said. “However, I have cautious optimism. The road is open but not done. There will be more partial closures ahead as the final phase is completed. I am most excited for businesses on the south side in the main work area as any improvement to business conditions is badly needed. It is a nice holiday present.”
Newsom said further brief road closures are necessary as the contractor works on the drainage system and adds friction course asphalt, the surfacing that actually allows your tires to grip the pavement. The full project isn’t expected to be completed until late January. Perhaps then all the dignitaries from elsewhere will pour in for the back-patting photo op, while the real heroes of the project–the hard-hatted workers of Jacksonville-based Superior Construction Company Southeast, city staff, the residents who endured the months of construction–will remain nameless.
Businesses suffered, too, though the contractor and the Transportation Department, along with the city, did what they could to line Central Avenue with business signs redirecting eyes to businesses’ back entrances. “They’re talking about some of the impacts, but if you really run a good business people are making their way there anyway,” Newsom said. “DOT really worked very hard to accommodate businesses during this construction project.”
Construction won’t actually be done even after January: the city is getting ready to accommodate another year-long project along the shore, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ rebuilding of 2.4 miles of dunes at the south end of town, though much of that project will be concentrated on the beach, with limited impact to the road and to traffic. But then there is the reconstruction of walk-overs.
“Construction is always a great thing but until it’s done it’s not really a great thing,” Newsom said.
“The biggest plus of the road being reopened in both directions is the lifting of the detour through the residential area along Central Avenue,” Belhumeur said. “I’m certain those homeowners are ecstatic. We are still suffering from the effects of hurricane Matthew and the activity will continue for some time. The road project still includes returning access to the existing walkovers prior to the road repairs. After that, there are many more walkovers that need to be replaced. Fortunately most of the beach re-nourishment activity will be on the beach, but it will certainly be an inconvenience as well. Hopefully by this time next year it will be all over.”
That’s assuming, in this era of rising seas, intensifying storms and forces of nature indifferent to community resilience, that it will be over–that another storm isn’t shaping its ruinous designs on the Florida coast somewhere in the sands of West Africa. It would be an overly optimistic assumption. “A1A Reopens!” has been a banner-headline exclamation at least a half dozen times in the past decade or so. This reopening won’t be the last.