If you have lived in Bartow for most of your life and have been drawing Social Security for maybe five years or so, the chances are you remember when the business district pretty much ended at the Polk Street railroad tracks.
The large tract of land just north of the tracks, where Citrus & Chemical Bank was built, was the site of the city’s baseball/softball complex, and just north of that, where Golden Gate Shopping Center is located today, was the City Trailer Park.
Highway 98 was known more commonly as the Lakeland Road.
The State Road 60 bypass — Van Fleet Drive — ensured that motorists, especially south Florida college students headed to Gainesville or Tallahassee, would identify Bartow as the town with the huge junkyard just south of that highway.
Those days are long gone, and shopping centers, service stations, banks, retailers, restaurants, auto dealerships, and a hospital give a new identity to that area.
For the past couple of years the intersection of Broadway and Van Fleet has been redesigned, enlarged, and given a more sophisticated traffic pattern. That is good news; the better news is that the $9.5 million project is finally finished.
The new CSX intermodal terminal north of State Road 60 east of Bartow is expected to channel much more truck traffic through the already busy intersection, as will continued growth in central Florida.
We commend the contractor and the Florida Dept. of Transportation for the management of construction. While ever-moving orange pylons and countless flashing lights on barricades are unavoidable in a project of this size, it is obvious that thought was given to minimizing inconvenience to motorists by scheduling the most disruptive work in the middle of the night.
And contrary to the stereotypical image of workers on public works projects, the work site was seldom occupied by crews of four men leaning on shovels and a supervisor ensuring that they were doing it correctly. The pace of construction indicated a sense of urgency.
We are also proud to note that there are no “gotcha” cameras mounted over the lanes of traffic, which number from four to six.
Such cameras, ostensibly designed to enhance motorist safety but marketed to local governments as a revenue-producing system, replace vigilant local police officers with clerks monitoring TV screens half-way across the land, issuing traffic tickets and taking a major share of the revenue.
Concurrently with the growth of these cameras has come a growth in the number of complaints about shortened time in which yellow lights signal a change from green to red. It hardly seems like a coincidence.
We do not support red light runners, stop sign runners, or motorists who pass stopped school buses.
But we believe that law enforcement should remain in the hands of local police officers, not television screen watchers in other states. We are glad that is Bartow’s policy.
Of course, if local officers are looking for a target-rich environment of violators, the addition of a third left-turn lane for southbound traffic has increased the number of truck drivers who take the left turn red signal from Highway 98 onto Van Fleet as only a suggestion, not a mandate.