Downtown dilemma: One-way pair will ease traffic congestion and protect historic properties

By Clint Smith, P.E., CFM

The slogan welcoming travelers into the city of Newberry, Florida, is “Enhancing the future while embracing the past.” That principle was put to good use recently on a study to improve traffic flow and multimodal safety on a main thoroughfare through the city while protecting the historic downtown.

Newberry is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. The city had an estimated 6,200 residents in 2019, according to the U.S. Census, a 24 percent increase since 2010. Newberry sits just 20 miles west of Gainesville, the largest city in north central Florida and the home of the University of Florida.

The expected population growth will continue to clog State Road 26 entering downtown Newberry, Florida. A proposed one-way pair configuration, developed during an extensive project development and environment study, will alleviate these concerns and open doors to future commercial development in the area while protecting Newberry’s historical district.

The influx of new residents has brought many positive things to the former phosphate mining town; however, expansion also can bring challenges. One such obstacle was congested traffic on State Road 26 entering downtown. SR 26 serves as the main access route from Newberry and counties west of Gainesville, the region’s major employment center. The traffic jams have hindered economic growth and caused safety and quality-of-life concerns for city leaders and residents.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) District 2 began studying options to increase capacity on this 4-mile stretch in 2007. An initial idea to create a bypass around the downtown did not garner support. In 2014, FDOT hired Hanson to conduct a project development and environment (PD&E) study to explore options other than a bypass. The preferred alternative generated from the study was a one-way pair roadway system into downtown using existing roadway corridors to minimize impacts. The idea received public support and endorsement in 2019, and FDOT hired Hanson last summer to produce the final design.

The one-way pair for SR 26 leading into downtown Newberry will greatly improve transportation while providing safety and improved quality of life for residents. The approximately 4-mile-long project will ease traffic congestion while providing enhanced safety measures, protecting the city’s historical district and existing land use.

Project paves way for improved traffic flow and safety measures

The project will convert SR 26/West Newberry Road and Northwest First Avenue from two-way, two-lane roadways into a one-way pair system, with two lanes in each direction. The design incorporates context-sensitive solutions features: the complete streets concept will increase roadway capacity while incorporating safety and traffic-calming measures, such as sidewalks, bicycle lanes, on-street parking and a roundabout.

The one-way pair provided the most feasible option to improve traffic flow, provide economic growth opportunities and minimize negative impacts to downtown and the environment without using conventional widening or a bypass. Newberry’s historic district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 and contains nearly 50 historic buildings, and protecting these landmarks was imperative.

The pictures on these display boards show a portion of the 3D roadway model overlaying existing conditions to demonstrate how the one-way pair harmonizes with the Newberry historic district without major negative impacts.

While the one-way pair concept is not new to Florida, some Newberry residents were unfamiliar and initially skeptical. Hanson worked alongside FDOT staff to educate and engage the public about one-way pairs before moving forward. The effort included a 3D-animated drive-through video to demonstrate realistic views of the travel lanes, pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes and using case studies on successful one-way pairs in other areas.

It will be awhile before residents and commuters can reap the benefits, with design and construction still a few years away. Even so, FDOT leaders and the community are excited about the prospects of the revamped roadway. The study earned an Honor Award this month from the American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida in its 2021 Engineering Excellence Awards competition.

This screen capture is from a 3D, fly-through rendering video used during public involvement efforts. The roundabout at the intersection of SR 26/CR 337 (Northwest 266th Street) will enhance safety and serve as a smooth transition to the one-way pair configuration. The video was instrumental in gaining public support by showing a realistic illustration to residents and business owners.

“The project is indicative of the types of positive transportation improvements FDOT District 2 strives for in our communities, using partnerships with affected parties and well-researched studies to benefit numerous stakeholders and provide the best value to our constituents,” said Robert “Larry” Parks, P.E., the district’s director of transportation development.

Clint Smith, P.E., CFM, is Hanson’s Florida infrastructure disciplines manager and works in the company’s Jacksonville, Florida, office. For more information about this project or ideas on Florida transportation projects, contact Clint at csmith2@hanson-inc.com. Also, visit Hanson’s project portfolio to see this and other projects.