City project will reshape Five Points intersection
Some business owners in the Five Points neighborhood are nervously anticipating a pending road project that would turn Lomax Street into a one-way street, widen sidewalks and create a more pedestrian-friendly experience in the popular Riverside shopping, dining and entertainment district.
After years in development, the $4 million project that will give the Five Points five-way traffic intersection a makeover should begin later this year.
The most notable change would be the conversion of Lomax into an eastbound, one-way street between the five-way intersection and Oak Street, with angled parking in exchange for two-way traffic.
Space from the removed lane on Lomax would be used to widen sidewalks on each side.
That portion would be closed during the main phase of construction, something Alex Podlas, owner of Bakery Ribault at 813 Lomax St., said concerns him the most.
“It seems like the project is going to take a long time, it’s not like it’s going to be a couple months or weeks,” Podlas said.
“That’s going to potentially have a negative impact to my business,” he said.
Council member Jim Love, who represents the district, said Tuesday he anticipates construction to begin during the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and take about 18 months.
“I hope the project managers and the city are planning to make special accommodations for pedestrian traffic,” said Podlas, who is not convinced that one-way traffic is the best solution.
“I think a two-way street really accommodates more traffic,” he said. “Look at all the one-ways Downtown. How is that working out?”
Podlas, who opened the bakery two years ago, said he had hoped the city would add more parking to the area instead of just reconfiguring the spaces already there.
According to the plans filed with the city Public Works Department by design engineer John Moye of Waitz & Moye Inc., Lomax Street would have 37 angled parking spots, with four reserved for handicapped-accessible parking, along with two bike racks. Three pedestrian crossings would be installed with one at each end of the street and one in the center of it.
Across from Podlas’ bakery, Fans & Stoves Antique Mall owner Ruben Escajeda Jr. isn’t as concerned, although he said he does think people will train themselves to park elsewhere while the street is closed.
“You figure that people are going to get used to finding another place to park if they work here, shop or eat here,” he said.
The design will impact parts of Park, Post, Margaret, Lomax, Oak and Herschel streets.
According to the plans, the traffic beacon at the center of the five-way intersection will be moved a few feet east to a new concrete median that will separate traffic between Lomax and Park streets.
It’s confusing, but for now Park Street runs two ways and traffic has the right of way through the intersection and around the beacon.
Traffic entering the intersection from Margaret and Lomax streets must stop and yield to the Park Street traffic and navigate around the beacon.
Drivers heading east or northwest on Park Street still will have the right of way to either side of Margaret Street, where stop signs will remain.
With the traffic beacon moved from the center of the intersection, drivers coming from either side of Margaret won’t have to maneuver around it.
Escajeda Jr. said Lomax certainly needs a facelift. He said most of the pedestrian traffic tends to stay on Park and Margaret streets, which already have pedestrian crossings and wider sidewalks.
“The street definitely needs some attention,” he said. “A lot of these buildings are very nondescript and I think people aren’t as familiar with Lomax as they are with Park.”
Other change includes widening the pedestrian paths on the east corner of Park and Margaret streets, along with new landscaping and benches.
Escajeda Jr. said Love and other city officials have kept the Five Points Merchants Association briefed on the project.
“They’ve been very attentive to listening to our concerns and asking for input,” he said.
According to a description of the project in the Capital Improvement Program budget, the city has $750,000 allocated from the Debt Management Fund to pay for construction costs this fiscal year. The remaining $3.5 million is pushed beyond the 2021-22 budget year, at least for now.
Although the city declined to allow an employee from the Public Works Department to comment, a city spokeswoman said “the city is currently looking for solutions to leverage all funding sources to deliver the planned design improvements as soon as possible.”
Love said he plans to meet with Curry’s staff about the details.
“I’ve been working on this for about three years now,” Love said.
He said he prefers to see the project completed as planned, but the city could reduce the scope if it needs to save money. If that were to happen, Love said, streetscape plans for the corner of Lomax and Oak streets would be scrapped for now.
“Maybe there’s money left over from a completed project that came in under budget, or there might be some bond money we can put toward it,” he said. “We’re going to get it done, either way.”
Love said he also is working with JEA to get utility lines moved underground while the road project is under construction.
“It would be a separate deal, but I think it’s a good opportunity to do it while the area is torn up for a little bit,” said Love, who estimates that project could cost $100,000 to $150,000.
Love said previously he prefers underground utilities, especially in the wake of the damage caused by hurricanes Irma and Matthew.
“It makes us more prepared for those disasters in my opinion,” he said.