Road widening done months in advance

Orange Avenue re-opened nine months ahead of schedule on Saturday with a celebration for the neighborhood.

“The turnout is fantastic. The whole community is here; it’s great,” said Mark Llewellyn, president of Genesis Group, the company that designed the avenue’s additions. County Commissioner Bill Proctor spoke about the project’s history.

The Orange Avenue widening project began in 2005 and had a $40 million budget. The process for the project began in 1989 with a sales tax that Tallahassee’s Southside supported in order to improve the avenue.

Deji Ajose-Adeogun, project engineer, said the Leon County Public Works Department placed the project on a bidding process and Sandco construction won the bid. The Genesis Group designed the avenue, and Sandco built it.

“The process is real long,” Llewellyn said. “You had a box culvert that’s been added where the ditch was located, which was very complicated from a design and permitting standpoint. “There was a lot of right-of-way acquisition that had some impact on some businesses along the way that took quite of bit of time to acquire the right-of-way to widen the road,” he said.

Another hindrance construction workers faced was the weather. Charles Woo, chief engineer designer for Leon County and project manager for the Orange Avenue widening project said, “When it rained during construction, contractors had to figure out how to get water out of the way and not damage whatever was just built.

“We ran into bad materials and had to improve that to further strengthen and enhance the base material before we could put the asphalt down.”

The construction process included adding new features for pedestrians, widening the road and installing new draining systems.

“We widen Orange Avenue from a two-lane highway to a divided four-lane community road with a lot of amenities,” Woo said. “We added sidewalks on both side of the road, landscaped median, additional bike lanes, mid-walk crossing for pedestrians and a roundabout at Jim Lee (Road) and Orange Avenue,” said Woo.

The roundabout at Jim Lee has caused some concern with Rickards High School Principal Dr. Pink Hightower.

“We have done a survey earlier on, and not very many people or very many students were in favor of it,” Hightower said. “We would have much rather seen a traffic light as opposed to a roundabout.”

However, the city has tried to accommodate the high school with tools to safely utilize the roundabout.

“The city has put forth the effort; they came out and did a seminar for the kids to familiarize them with the roundabout. They presented a video, so everyone has been abreast of it and we utilize it for the juniors and seniors because they are the ones that are driving at this particular time,” Hightower said.Many residents of the neighborhood are satisfied with the outcome of the project.

“Hopefully with the flow of traffic, people will be conscience of the kids in the neighborhood when they do have to cross the street; overall, when people feel good about where they live, generally people feel safer and hopefully people will respect that,” said Perry Wes, neighborhood president for Apalachee Ridge Estates, a neighborhood through which Orange Avenue runs. “We do know that it’s going to increase traffic on this side of town by this being a major corridor to Southwood and other areas in the neighborhood.”

Traffic during the construction caused an inconvenience for Rickard High School students and staff.

“It was difficult coming in because everybody had to use Paul Russell Road, and it was quite a few back-ups there. Before they put a traffic light on Paul Russell road, it was almost impossible to make a left hand turn for those folks trying to make it back to highway 27,” Hightower said.

Businesses along Orange Avenue and residents of surrounding neighborhoods were also inconvenienced.

“It was a little bit of an inconvenience, but we felt that the incontinences will lead to some change. It was pretty much tolerated,” Wes said.