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Access points on the long-awaited third bridge will feature custom Guy Harvey artwork

Access points on the long-awaited third bridge will feature custom Guy Harvey artwork, topped with a brushed stainless steel fish sculpture. CROSSTOWN EXTENSION WEBSITE

Next phase of Crosstown Parkway project targets traffic congestion

BY DEBRA MAGRANN

Signs of the times are evident in the Crosstown Parkway extension neighborhoods as major construction is about to begin on a bridge over the North Fork of the St. Lucie River that will add another east-west connection in the city and alleviate traffic congestion on the older bridges during peak times.

In January, the easternmost leg of the parkway was blocked off at Sandia Drive in preparation for utility relocation. Last year, everything along east West Virginia Drive, including 90 homes, was razed.

“Bridge construction will begin on the west bank at Coral Reef Drive,” says Patricia Roebling, assistant city manager. Following the issuance of two permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard, an all-day job fair is planned for late April at the civic center.

An official groundbreaking event is tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m., May 9, east of the intersection of Crosstown Parkway and Sandia within the project limits and closed roadway.

The project will continue into the summer with utility relocation, more land clearing, erosion control, water/sewer installation and bridge cap pre-casting. By May, there should be signs of bridge work beginning with trestle installation, and perhaps test pile installation.

Due to permit restrictions, a trestle, or temporary steel structure will be built adjacent to the new bridge that will follow. To avoid impacts to the land, a large crane will build the trestle 50 feet at a time, while another crew follows behind using the trestle to build the permanent structure.

“It is efficient, quicker and economical,” says George Denti, director of Construction Services with Cardno Engineering. “When we’re done, the trestle is removed. It’ll be like we were never there.”

MOVING FORWARD
Improving mobility has long been a priority and the city is moving forward on its largest capital improvement in its history: construction of the Crosstown Parkway Bridge, establishing a new east/west corridor with the hopes of alleviating gridlock during peak traffic hours on the dual bridges of Prima Vista and Port St. Lucie Boulevards.

“We are already in a failing situation on Port St. Lucie Boulevard between the river and Floresta Drive,” says Frank Knott, project manager for the city’s Regulatory Division of the Public Works Department.

The first bridge was completed in 1959 when General Development Corp. spanned the river on East Prima Vista Boulevard. With the addition of the second bridge and rapid development, bottlenecks are a twice-daily occurrence.

“We go back as far as 1980,” Roebling says. “This river crossing was included in our comprehensive plan.” During the process, alternative routes and methods were explored including tunneling under the river and a double-decker on one of the existing bridges.

Planning a major construction project in a coastal area with an abundance of sensitive and protected wetlands needed to follow strict protocols. After extensive analysis and community input, a route was selected that best met formal criteria regarding its impacts to the environment, the community and numerous other factors.

SEEING IS BELIEVING
For the past 20 years, planning efforts involved extensive federal, state and local cooperation, as well as public outreach.

Previous council and staff members had a rare opportunity to observe firsthand how a bridge of this magnitude could be possible with the construction of the Indian Street Bridge in Martin County in 2013. Similar challenges were faced there with the crossing of the South Fork of the St. Lucie River.

“It’s nice to be able to actually see something,” Knott says. “We’ve been looking at paper for 10 or 12 years. The difference between the two bridges is the Crosstown bridge crosses wetlands, not open water.”

Environmental hurdles aside, planners said the Federal Highway Administration and Florida Department of Transportation were experienced with these issues and were helpful during the permitting process.

Alternative routes were offered with 1C being selected and adopted by City Council in 2012. All build alternatives faced unavoidable environmental impacts. “The river as an asset is an attribute to be protected,” says Michael Davis, former vice president of the consulting firm Keith & Schnars in Fort Lauderdale. “The selection criteria and matrix included impacts to wetlands, fish, natural resources and communities. On balance, alternative 1C was the best place to cross the river.”

Keith & Schnars was tapped to administer the process under the National Environmental Policy Act and put together an interdisciplinary team that included biologists, environmental scientists, geologists and engineers. Also assisting were the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District.

LONG PROCESS
Environmental studies for the final phase began in 2002 after the Crosstown Parkway originally broke ground. But legal wrangling ensued with environmentalists pushing back. In December, a federal lawsuit was rejected and the water management district granted the final order to proceed, which also was challenged. The order was upheld by a federal appellate court last month.

“This unanimous affirmation, which specifically recognizes that the route for the Crosstown Bridge was properly selected after careful, thoughtful consideration, comes on the heels of the city prevailing in a separate but related administrative challenge,” Mayor Greg Oravec says. “Thus, all legal challenges to date have been rebuffed, and we are on the verge of making a longstanding community dream come true.”

“In a special election nearly 12 years ago, 89 percent of the voters approved an increase in our taxes to pay for it,” Mayor Oravec adds. “The bridge is critically needed for transportation, economic development, emergency response and evacuation.”

As of January, the Crosstown Parkway Extension Project was in full swing with completion of several mitigation projects to improve water quality, restore wildlife wetlands and provide for enhancing future ecotourism in the city’s eastern sector. The importance of getting the bridge built and protecting the river has been a major balancing act.

“With any bridge project of this scope, there will be impacts to the natural environment,” City Manger Russ Blackburn says. “It is imperative to balance the needs of our city of almost 180,000 residents and our obligation to protect natural resources.”

MITIGATIONS MONITORED
Regulatory mitigation — offsetting the environmental impacts of constructing the bridge — as well as proprietary mitigations of water quality improvements and enhancements to state park lands were monitored at three sites by the city’s engineering and public works departments: Savannas Education Center, Evans Creek and Platt’s Creek in White City. One hundred ten acres of city-owned land in the St. Lucie Basin were donated to the state park system to offset 10 acres that will be impacted by the bridge.

“The city invested … more mitigation projects than required by the permits … (and) completed these projects as a good faith effort well in advance of the permitting and building of the actual bridge, all within our St. Lucie Basin,” Blackburn says. “Our investment and concern for the environment does not stop now that construction starts.”

The mitigation was threefold: proprietary water quality improvements completed at four sites, recreational opportunities at the Savannas Recreation Area Trail and Savannas Preserve State Park and a regulatory package that was a joint mitigation as a city/county collaboration known as the Platt’s Creek Restoration Project.

These projects protect the parklands owned by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the investment the state has in these lands. The overall benefits were to create wetlands adjacent to the river and Savannas Preserve State Park, remove invasive vegetation, increase wildlife habitat and wetland connectivity and ensure Platt’s Creek remains as public conservation.

Regulatory water quality improvements were facilitated in cooperation with St. Lucie County. The $2.5 million project was completed in the summer of 2015 as part of the overall mitigation of approximately 10 acres of wetlands in the Crosstown Parkway Extension Project.

The Platt’s Creek Mitigation Bank is a 102-acre parcel of decommissioned grove lands turned restoration area, designed for stormwater retention and treating runoff from a 1,000-acre drainage basin, reducing freshwater flow into the Indian River Lagoon and improving the watershed by allowing the natural processes to remove thousands of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus annually that otherwise dump into the North Fork.

RECREATIONAL AMENITIES
Experiencing the city’s natural surroundings includes its primary waterway. The new bridge has the potential to become a destination to walk, jog, power cycle, sightsee, canoe, kayak or fish. A linear canoe launch will be under the bridge at Coral Reef Drive and will include a small parking area.

Because of its built-in architectural design features, aesthetic components and towering, site-specific Guy Harvey artwork, the structure is more than a bridge. It could lead the way as a signature showpiece toward a unified identity for the city. Monuments with brushed stainless steel fish sculptures mounted atop will accent the stepped landscape design below.

Five years in the making, funded primarily by the city and overseen by St. Lucie County’s Water Quality Division, the county has plans that include passive recreational amenities such as educational signs, a canoe launch, covered picnic tables and hiking trails.

The city will use credits associated with half of the site as regulatory wetland mitigation required for the Crosstown project. The County will bank the remaining credits for future wetland mitigation.

With the potential of becoming a Great Florida Birding Trail site, bird watchers will find that the effort restored the habitat of a variety of native water fowl, attracting shore and wading birds. County biologists have documented nesting black-necked stilts while a host of bird species can be spotted among the wildlife blinds.

Sedimentation was removed from Evans Creek and two oxbows of the river, reconnecting nearly 30 acres of poor quality floodplains. These projects will filter pollutants, improve areas of open water and reconnect degraded wetlands back to flows of the North Fork.

EASY ACCESS TO LAUNCH
The relocated Evans Creek canoe launch allows visitors to enjoy Savannas Preserve State Park and the North Fork up close. Located between Walton Road and Village Green Drive, to the west of U.S.1, it includes a paved access road leading to a parking area and canoe launch that is Americans with Disabilities Act compliant. No longer will it be necessary to lug canoes a long distance to the river.

A 5-acre habitat restoration area was also created with scrub and scrubby flatwoods to lure scrub jays. Although jays are nearby at Savannas Preserve State Park, they have not been recorded on the North Fork of the St. Lucie River since 1984. The habitat restoration area is also home for relocated gopher tortoises.

One of several mitigation projects funded by the city, the new launch provides recreation and ecotourism opportunities for residents and visitors as compensation for crossing state-owned lands with the Crosstown Parkway Bridge Project.

Further to the northeast, a new trail offers wilderness hiking and access to the rich biodiversity of pine flatwoods, wet prairie marsh, lakes, scrub and wildlife along an 8-foot wide paved path. The trailhead begins at the Savannas Recreation Area campground and stretches 1.25 miles from Midway Road to Savannah Road. This critical link is part of the St. Lucie North/South trail system that connects to the Green River Parkway Trail and is also a segment of the East Coast Greenway, a multi-state trail linking east coast cities from Maine to Key West. Several amenities were incorporated for the public’s enjoyment: benches to observe natural surroundings and bridges for natural water flow.

EDUCATION CENTER EXPANDED
Another joint investment was a 3,000 sq. ft. addition to the Savannas Preserve State Park Education Center off Walton Road in Port St. Lucie. The new wing will advance awareness of the wetland biodiversity while offering rental space to hold weddings, meetings, and other memorable events.

The design includes a breezeway between the existing building and the addition that includes a wet lab, multi-purpose room, large lecture space and offices. A concrete parking lot, handicap ramp, wrap-around observation deck and improved trail features were added to upgrade the perimeter. Once educational signs, hiking trails, wildlife blinds, a canoe launch and picnic tables are completed, staff will apply to have the preserve added to the Great Florida Birding Trail.

One impact has many residents concerned: The city will be home to Florida’s first superstreet intersection — known technically as a restricted-crossing U-turn intersection — positioned at Crosstown Parkway and Floresta Drive when the $150 million project is set to be completed in 2019.

The configuration is said to reduce the number of collision points from 32 at a conventional intersection down to 14, according to experts, but other states have not been so eager to try this type of traffic control. Tight transportation budgets and traffic congestion made it appealing.

A major education outreach is planned to assure that the superstreet is a safe, efficient choice to keep traffic flowing.

For residents in the area being affected by the changes, there is help.

“Many residents have called the project hotline with questions,” says Beth Zsoka, the project’s public information officer. “This is an important project for the city and the community and we want to work closely with residents throughout the project.”

The hotline, which can be reached at 871-5176, serves as a resource for those in the community to connect directly with the project team, make inquiries and express concerns. For more information, call 475-5874.


Crosstown Parkway Extension Project


2003 - Design and construction of the first 6 miles of the Crosstown Parkway begins
2005 - Voters approve a citywide bond referendum to fund the project
2009 - Crosstown Parkway completed to Manth Lane
2015 - City Council awards the design/build contract to the Archer Western and RS&H Team
2016 - Public open house held at Community Center; environmental mitigation completed

For more information: The public is invited to a construction open house scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., March 6, at the community center, 2195 SE Airoso Blvd. A presentation will begin at 6.