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Alachua may get new interstate ramp

W_-_I75_InterchangeThe Florida Department of Transportation will be conducting a workshop to discuss construction of a second southbound access ramp on the south side of U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua.

 ALACHUA – Major improvements to the Interstate 75 interchange at U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua could be coming soon as a proposal is on the table to add a second southbound access ramp to the interstate.

The additional access ramp is expected to ease traffic congestion and safety concerns at the interchange area, which serves tens of thousands of motorists daily.

A workshop on the possible improvements is being held later this month.  The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has invited the public and owners of property surrounding the interchange to participate and provide feedback on the proposal, which if acted upon, would likely result in major traffic changes in the area.

FDOT staff will be on hand to discuss the project and answer questions, officials with the department say.  The workshop is slated to include a brief presentation followed by public comment.

Much of the traffic congestion surrounding the I-75 interchange in Alachua is due to interstate accesses and exits being constrained only to the north side of U.S. Highway 441.  But improvements proposed by FDOT would overcome some of those limitations.

“The department is interested in these improvements because they would reduce traffic congestion and accidents caused by motorists entering and exiting the interstate in that area,” FDOT District Two Public Information Director Gina Busscher said in an interview Wednesday.

The project has been on FDOT’s radar for several years, she said, although the ability to move ahead with it had been hindered by a longstanding railroad easement behind KFC.

The proposed project would involve acquiring the KFC property, which is adjacent to the interstate to allow for the construction of a second southbound access ramp on the south side of U.S. 441.  The new ramp would allow motorists traveling toward Gainesville on U.S. 441 to access I-75 southbound without having to turn left and cross oncoming traffic.

“This project is still in the very early preliminary stages,” Busscher said, adding that the department had not yet contacted property owners to discuss purchasing right of way.  At this point, she said, the department is looking for feedback from the public to determine how it might proceed.

With an estimated design and construction cost of $8 million, the improvements would be funded through both state and federal coffers.  That price tag does not include easement and property acquisition, for which FDOT currently has a budgeted $350,000 set aside.

The possible addition of a new access ramp does not seem to be a long-term pipe dream, as Busscher said the preliminary project timeline would have FDOT bidding out the design and construction in February 2015.  But the project could move more quickly than that if funding sources and other obstacles are cleared, she said.  FDOT is working toward advancing the project bidding to as early as the latter half of 2013, she added.

A part of the proposal also includes the construction of a park and ride facility in the same vicinity as the proposed access ramp.

If opened in 2016, the new ramp would be estimated serve some 4,800 vehicles per day according to an FDOT analysis.  A 2009 study of the interchange showed that each day, roughly 24,000 vehicles traveled along U.S. 441 in the vicinity of the interchange.  Meanwhile, 55,000 vehicles were logged on I-75 just south of the interchange.

A new I-75 interchange in Alachua has long been discussed, largely due to the space limitations of the current U.S. 441 interchange.  FDOT has made some changes to it in recent years, alleviating some of the congestion and safety concerns.  But FDOT officials have been aware for several years that the existing interchange does not meet the demands of existing traffic, especially at peak times.

The addition of lanes at the I-75 northbound off ramp, adjustments to a southbound access lane and the synchronization of traffic signals on U.S. 441 are all changes made by FDOT in the last several years.

The public workshop is being held in the City of Alachua commission chambers on May 31at 4:30 p.m.