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NEWBERRY – Representatives from The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) held a public information meeting last Thursday to further talks about a controversial two-way pair road system to be constructed on State Road 26 through Newberry.

The purpose of the roads, according to Newberry City Commissioner Jordan Marlowe, is to be able to transport large numbers of people from the west of Florida to the east in case of an emergency.

The gathering was a continuation of the first meeting held on June 11, 2015, where three alternatives that addressed capacity improvements were proposed.

The two-way pair system was recommended for further consideration as a result of comments received at the June meeting.

Under this plan, FDOT would construct four new lanes of traffic that would begin west of County Road 337. The lanes would continue until 264th Street, where they’d split to create a two-way pair system.

SR 26 would diverge into a one-way street running east, while NW 1st Avenue would become a one-way street running west.

The total cost of the project is projected at approximately $15.5 million.

Construction would tentatively begin in 2025 with completion within the next two years.

About 30 people stayed after the meeting in order to voice their concerns during a public comment forum with FDOT Project Manager Stephen Browning and Planning and Environmental Manager Bill Henderson.

One young mother was worried about the safety of her small child.

“We purchased [our] property because it was not on a main street,” she said. [The proposed road] is going to be right past my house. People are not going to go that speed limit. You’re taking away that stop sign, so the road is going to be less safe for my child. There’s going to be more litter on the road.”

Another citizen voiced concern that Newberry’s fate would be similar to that of Waldo, a nearby town once notorious for its highway speed traps.

Marlowe said that while the changes might be beneficial for Florida at large, they won’t be for Newberry.

Residents on 1st Avenue would be sandwiched between two two-lane roads in which traffic never stops or slows down, he said.

“It becomes potentially hazardous for kids who are crossing the road,” he said.

Besides the social consequences, Marlowe mentioned how businesses on 1st Avenue would be negatively impacted.

“Everybody drives very quickly down Newberry [Road] to get to their job,” he said. “And the west-bound traffic will be on 1st Street where all the residents are. So, the businesses would lose their drive-by traffic at the time of the day where they might be more inclined to do an impulse stop.

“Right now they live on a quiet street in a small town. They would be living on a very busy freeway style street. That’s what they feel.”

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