|Board votes 3-2 to close 'Walmart expressway'|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Mike Anderson|
|Thursday, 31 May 2012 11:56|
The Super Walmart Expressway has officially been closed.
The Baker County Commission voted 3-2 during a packed meeting to close the Barber Road bridge on the evening of May 21, ending what had become a convenient short cut for many to the Walmart store on SR 228 from busy SR 121.
“If Walmart wasn’t there we wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” said Commissioner Mark Hartley moments before he voted with the majority to close the bridge.Mr. Hartley, Commissioner Michael Crews and Commission Chairman Gordon Crews said the bridge and road should be closed to vehicular traffic for safety reasons. The decades-old narrow concrete span, which has room for only one vehicle at a time, lies atop wooden pilings and has no safety railing.
“I wasn’t for closing the road until just a few minutes ago,” Mr. Hartley said after commissioners heard a litany of reasons why homeowners in the immediate neighborhood have been clamoring to have the road closed for a long time.
Among the reasons cited was dust, litter, motorists speeding and driving recklessly, and large semi tractor-trailers frequently getting stuck in the ditch or across someone’s driveway.
“There are eight paved roads that connect (SR) 121 and (SR) 228 between I-10 and US 90,” said Cindy Williams of nearby Douglas Street, the first to speak on the issue. “There is no need for another way to get to Walmart.”
By closing the road, she said, people no longer will be able to “use it as a Walmart Expressway.”
In all, 11 property owners on or near Barber Road pleaded for closure of the road that they said has brought them grief, anxiety and concern for the safety of anyone driving on that road.
Barber Road extends from SR 121 about half a mile to a 90-degree turn in the road and continues another half mile or so across the bridge and out to SR 228. The western half is paved and is in the City of Macclenny, while the eastern half is dirt and is in the county.
Joe Barber, who owns most of the land between Barber Road and Walmart, said his father donated the right-of-way to the county “as a wagon road” many years ago. He said it served a useful purpose for a long time but has become a liability and should be closed to traffic.
“Now, it’s a hazard,” Mr. Barber said.
Lindsey Thomas lives with her mother in front of the 90-degree curve on Barber Road and said they’ve seen numerous cars and trucks go “fishtailing around the curve” heading toward the narrow bridge with no railings.
“We’re talking about a short cut to a place that never closes,” Ms. Thomas said, adding that she does not know why so many people continue to use the road because of its narrow, bumpy condition.
Pat Shannon of 4626 Barber Road said he was awakened at 3 am on May 7 to the sounds of a large commercial truck revving its engine in front of his residence.
“A big semi came down the road and tried to turn around and got stuck,” he said. “All I heard was the gunning of the truck until a tow truck finally came and pulled it out. They tore down a stop sign.”
Mr. Shannon said he also saw a car forced off the road into the ditch by another car speeding by about two weeks ago. He said such a sight is very common on Barber Road.
“You have a chance right now to stop someone from getting killed,” he told commissioners, adding that he‘s lived on the road 42 years. “It’s gotten worse in the last five years than any other time.”
Phil Rhoden, a Macclenny city commissioner who has lived on Barber Road 55 years, said the road itself has changed very little in all that time, while “the change has been with the traffic.”
After Winn-Dixie opened years ago on SR 121 in the mid-1970s, Mr. Rhoden said traffic on Barber Road began to increase. But later, after the Walmart opened on SR 228 about seven years, the volume of traffic intensified much more.
As part of the development agreement, Mr. Rhoden said, Walmart paid to widen SR 228. However, there was no requirement for the company to help widen or pave Barber Road because “nobody foresaw the problems we have.”
Every other dirt road in the county has dust, litter and speeding vehicles residents have to contend with, Mr. Rhoden said, but people on Barber Road have a unique problem.
“Ours is being created by commercial traffic in a residential neighborhood,” he said. “We live it 24/7. That is our home.”
Only four people, none of whom lived near Barber Road, urged commissioners to keep the road open. They said it was a convenience for many people who travel the road regularly and helps keep local traffic off I-10.
Furthermore, they said the county should not close a county road and continue to maintain it with taxpayer dollars.
“If the county’s going to maintain it I want to be able to use it,” Roland Cope of North 40 Circle told commissioners. “I’ve never heard of anybody getting killed on that (Barber Road) bridge.”
Floyd Nicholson of Aspen Road said his road is dirt and just as dusty as any other dirt road and he sees plenty of cars and trucks “come up and down my road at 60 mph.” But he said he’s not asking the county to close his road to traffic.
“If we’re going to close it let’s make it their road, not a county road that we’ve got to pay for,” Mr. Nicholson said.
In the end Commissioners Michael Crews, Gordon Crews and Mark Hartley, all of whom are up for re-election this year, voted for closure but to keep grading it at county expense to make it accessible to the people who live on the road. County workers were expected to begin erecting barricades at the bridge this week.
Commissioners Jimmy Anderson and Adam Giddens, who aren’t up for re-election until 2014, were outvoted in their bid to keep the road open but increase law enforcement to cut down on speeding through the neighborhood.
Mr. Anderson noted that he realizes “there are issues on Barber Road,” but said he had talked with someone at the Florida Department of Transportation and was told that the “bridge is usable.”
Instead of closing it he said the road should be made into a “speed trap like they have in Lawtey.” That would eliminate a lot of traffic, reasoned.