The redesign of one of St. Augustine’s most picturesque intersections might not happen until 2027 or 2028, but it is creating controversy already.
The proposal to rework traffic flow on and off the Bridge of Lions from State Road A1A — as well as King Street and Cathedral Place — has an estimated price tag of $8.2 million. But when the state presented the roadway proposal to St. Augustine residents this week, reaction was mixed.
Those who use the existing intersection are already dealing with a drainage project at the base of the Bridge of Lions, with another FDOT program set for further west on King Street in a year. Now comes news of a complete redesign of the Avenida Menendez and King Street/Cathedral Place intersection into what the FDOT calls “an innovative configuration designed to provide safer and more efficient traffic movement.”
During a town hall meeting this week at St. Augustine City Hall, historic preservation expert Leslee Keys said she’s heard the proposal’s design called a “hydra,” while she calls it complicated The design, as presented this week, also intrudes into some 100-year-old war memorials at the base of the bridge, among other concerns she submitted to the FDOT in her own PowerPoint presentation.
“The irony is we had a public hearing a few days before Veterans Day that would enable FDOT to heavily modify an intersection in one of the most significant cities in the U.S, a National Landmark historic district and a bridge that’s on the National Register of Historic Places,” said Keys, past president of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation who has worked close to the Bridge of Lions off and on for decades. “It would be damaging and impacting war memorials.”
After hearing agreement and objections from people at the town hall, FDOT spokesman Hampton Ray said the redesign is still years away from construction. The meeting was held so the FDOT could hear public comment early, discuss the design and hear about issues they might not have considered so far.
“We are still accepting public comments. We are still talking to people and have received a lot of phone calls about the proposed design itself,” Ray said. “We live here as well. We are neighbors, and we want decisions to be made at the local level, not in some faraway office, so that is why we have the meetings where we do.”
The project as proposed includes converting the existing intersection so that traffic on Avenida Menendez no longer directly intersects King Street/Cathedral Place at a traffic signal. Instead, the state proposes a redesign of looping turns on and off the Bridge of Lions as well as the intersection’s roads.
This redesign would decrease total travel time for all vehicles using the intersection by almost 60%. It would reduce the length of traffic backed up normally in the current turn lanes by 70% on north- and southbound A1A, the state says. It would also reduce the long lines that form during the Bridge of Lions drawbridge cycles from 30-plus minutes to six or less, the FDOT said.
“This proposed intersection is not designed to increase capacity,” Ray said. “It is designed to increase efficiency through the entire intersection to really promote more of a free flow of traffic. It is not going to be a silver bullet in terms of eliminating all congestion.”
But another concern of Keys’ stems from memories of the 2010 redesign of the Bridge of Lions, which initially was to be a brand new four-lane span whose construction would have taken private and public properties from Oglethorpe Park on Anastasia Island to the Plaza de la Constitucion downtown. There were lots of protests back then, ending with the span being named an endangered historic site and remaining two lanes wide.
“That garnered enough public attention that it stopped the project and made FDOT come back to the table and do a redesign, and that’s what we have now,” she said. “That is part of my concern is I think we all thought we had survived it once and would never have to live through that again.”
Others liked the design.
Michael Cumpton said the proposed configuration will help.
“By looping these turn lanes, you have more room for storage cars,” Cumpton told News4Jax, a Jacksonville Today partner. “You’re going to have two cycle lights, which means the red and green will cycle faster, which means you will move traffic through and you won’t be sitting there.”
But Anthony Orsini said did not agree with the curved roads in the new design.
“I am totally against this project,” Orsini told News4Jax. “I think this improvement is a disaster. I’m a professional engineer. I’ve worked in transportation all of my life.”
Other commenters were concerned that the proposal would block views of the historic city, while one woman said there is no crosswalk for pedestrians besides right in front of A1A.
Public comment can be sent to the FDOT by Nov. 18 to Project Manager Jeff Daugharty at Jeff.Daugharty@dot.state.fl.us, or to him at 2198 Edison Avenue, Jacksonville 32204.
If the project moves forward, it will start in fiscal year 2027 or 2028. But it will be preceded by two other projects involving King Street.
Downtown drivers are already dealing with a $4.2 million project adding a drainpipe on King Street and Avenida Menendez, and up to the waterfront wall, including new curb and gutter, sidewalks, bicycle paths and more. That project is set to end later this year.
FDOT also has planned a $10.6 million project that includes a San Sebastian River Bridge replacement on King Street closer to U.S. 1, set to start next summer. The proposed bridge will include two 11-foot travel lanes, a turn lane and sidewalks on either side.
That could leave some construction-weary residents by then. Ray said FDOT understands that can be “frustrating.”
“At the end of the day, once projects are completed, it really makes for a more complete infrastructure solution as it relates to mitigating congestion,” he said. “The drainage project eliminates flooding. These are all challenges we have for a growing region, and we anticipate additional growth. .We want to make sure that when people come to visit and live in St. Augustine, that they have the best infrastructure available.”
Lead image: Here is the State Road A1A/Avenida Menendez intersection, before and after FDOT’s proposed redesign. The current design is on the left. | FDOT