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Commissioner assent to Sebring Parkway-College Drive redesign

Finally, the major players agree with Sebring Parkway's route past South Florida State College. Without voting on Tuesday, commissioners consented to the newest idea, a northbound lane that routes Sebring Parkway Phase 3 traffic past College Drive and onto Memorial Boulevard, where motorists will eventually wind up in Avon Park. In the alternative, motorists can merge onto a roundabout that will take cars to the college or back to Sebring. There is no dedicated southbound lane, but SFSC Trustee Joe Wright said this solution is the best that's been proposed. "We looked at multiple alteratives, and this one jumped off the page." Phase 3 will start at the 90-degree turn north of downtown Sebring and join Memorial Drive 4.1 miles later, south of Avon Park.
College officials and commissioners have worked out solutions in the past, but the commissioners changed their mind a year ago, threw out Option 2, and went back to the original design, a four-way intersection with College Drive and Memorial Drive-Sebring Parkway which college president Norm Stephens and the trustees have always opposed. Commissioner Ron Handley said in March the original four-way intersection would have fewer conflict points than the diamond-shaped option that the college contends would tend to route traffic through the college. "We want the college involved," Commissioner Greg Harris disagreed. "They don't want a throughway, and I share that concern." Wright said two months ago the original design is dangerous to students, faculty and staff because trucks and non-college traffic would likely use College Drive as a shortcut. "I only have one vote, but I think the college would vote to take some pretty dramatic action to stop that." "Something has got to change in that intersection," Wright said. When the parkway was designed a decade ago, he suggested, there was no clear route from the 90-degree turn to U.S. 27, and College Drive seemed like the best option. Two months ago, SFSC Vice President Glenn Little and County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete went back to the drawing board on another option. Wright and Little followed Gavarrete to his office after the commission meeting, where they looked over another option. "I personally like the idea," Commissioner Jim Brooks said Tuesday of the traffic circle design. "You don't have to put a signal in." "I think it's a win-win all the way around," Commissioner Don Elwell agreed. "You've come up with something that makes everybody happy and safe, and I thank you for that," Harris directed a compliment at Little and Gavarrete, who came up with the idea. The college will retain control of the green park in the middle of the traffic circle, providing signs and vegetation don't interfere with traffic. Administrative Projects Manager Chris Benson, Assistant County Engineer Elius Nortelus and Road & Bridge Superintendent Kyle Green also got a green light to replace and extend the Memorial Drive ditch culvert, which has failed and is discharging wastewater into Lake Lotela. "Unfortunately," Chairman Jack Richie said, "this thing is five or 10 years behind schedule. It's a terrible mess." Green said the road would be closed a few days, but the project would be completed in a few weeks. gpinnell@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5828