State officials are trying to keep residents informed about ongoing construction, but those affected by the project want improved communication.
On Feb. 5, a guest staying at The Reserve at 1322 N. Tamiami Trail decided to check out one day after arriving.
The business had to issue nearly $450 in refunds, according to an email from The Reserve owner Jessica Simmons sent to City Manager Tom Barwin and others. The reason the guest checked out? Construction noise throughout the night, according to Simmons’ email.
That incident is one example of how the construction of roundabouts along U.S. 41 at 10th and 14th streets has affected those surrounding the project. Simmons said another guest staying along 14th Street asked her how long the construction would continue, because she felt she couldn’t walk her dog at night.
Although the Florida Department of Transportation had already worked to direct traffic away from 14th Street at property owners’ request, the contractor was still using an adjacent property as a dumping ground for debris. Concrete hitting a dumpster continued to cause the loudest nighttime noises.
Simmons feared another cancellation could cost her business thousands of dollars. And so, she asked city and state officials if anything more could be done to mitigate the effects of the construction.
“We’re still left wondering: Why should the 14th Street neighborhood and businesses bear the brunt of the entire project?” Simmons wrote. “Couldn’t an empty lot in more of an open construction area and less of a residential area serve the purpose for the noisy nighttime work, and (for) debris and concrete storage?”
Before beginning work on the roundabout in late 2017, the Florida Department of Transportation held a workshop designed to prepare residents for the effects of construction.
The October event didn’t just mark the beginning of a project expected to continue through spring 2020 — it was the beginning of the state’s efforts to keep the public informed about the construction, according to FDOT spokesman Zach Burch.
Burch said the project will inevitably inconvenience those in the area surrounding the construction. Some work has to be done during the night to avoid blocking traffic during the day, and things like the beeps of trucks driving in reverse can’t be mitigated.
But the state does want to be responsive to issues it can solve. After receiving word about the concrete being dropped into a dumpster, FDOT instructed the contractor to change how it handles that process. Now, crews dump concrete in the grass at night, and move the debris into the bin during the day, when the noise is less disruptive.
“When there’s something that’s avoidable like this, we don’t need to create a problem for people trying to sleep in the area,” Burch said.
Su Byron, another 14th Street resident, was skeptical about the state’s responsiveness. She said she had been dealing with the disruption associated with construction for months when the concrete-dropping noises caused her to send a stern letter of complaint to FDOT officials.
For the next several days, as the noise continued, Byron chronicled the disturbances and continued to send messages to FDOT, the city and the owner of the neighboring property being used for staging. She questioned whether the dumping and demolition qualified as staging and storage, the designated purpose of using that lot.
She said the night disruptions have stopped for now, but she wishes the response had been quicker — and she’s not certain this incident will help mitigate any future issues.
City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch has organized a meeting between state and city officials and neighborhood stakeholders. She wants to play a role in establishing better two-way communication as the project continues for two more years.
FDOT has also scheduled another community workshop to inform the community about the project, scheduled to be held from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on March 1 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
Byron said improved dialogue between the project team and those affected by the construction will be crucial as work continues.
“I understand the roundabout has to happen,” Byron said. “I think a lot of this frustration could have been avoided had there been clear consistent communication from the city, from the owner of the lot and from FDOT.”