AVON PARK —“Popeye’s,” Commissioner Don Elwell said jokingly. “Popeye’s is never going to open, so stop worrying about it. It seems like it’s been there forever, right? Coming soon, coming soon, coming soon. I’ve seen glaciers move faster than Popeye’s.”
The restaurant has been almost finished, yet still under construction since last year.
The intersection at U.S. 27 and Lakeview Drive is another long story.
“Right there is one of Highlands County’s most interesting intersections, with that right-hand turn off Lakeview that kind of merges,” Elwell said. Northbound motorists from Lakeview Drive who are headed for the left-turn lane onto Sparta Road must slide across three lanes of traffic.
“That’s three, four years away?” Elwell asked.
Four years, County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr. confirmed.
“So FDOT does have it in its long-range plan, if you will, to make a complete change to that intersection,” Elwell said.
Elwell updated a town hall crowd Tuesday at South Florida State College on intersections across Highlands County.
Fully open intersections with no red lights or stop signs are especially deadly. Elwell included Ryant Boulevard and Northwood Boulevard in Sebring, and Lake Mirror Drive in Lake Placid, where the speed limit is 55 mph.
FDOT may restrict those intersections to right turn, left turn, and U-turn only. “As opposed to having to get across six lanes of traffic,” Elwell said. “It gets to be really, really hectic.
“FDOT agreed with us on two of those. They did not agree with us on Ryant Boulevard,” Elwell said. “There weren’t enough accidents to justify it. So they are still looking at closing off those two, they are still doing some additional research into intersections on both sides of those.”
In truth, several fatalities have occurred at the Ryant Boulevard intersection as Sebring Falls motorists attempt a downright-scary left turn across three lanes of oncoming U.S. 27 traffic into three more lanes of 55 mph traffic.
Highlands County commissioners and citizens have pressured FDOT to install a stoplight at U.S. 27 and the intersection where the Avon Park Walmart is located, Elwell said. Deadly accidents have occurred at Shop 16 Road.
Walmart is paying for a light, Howerton said. FDOT has already permitted the light.
“Hopefully, construction will start on that within a year,” Elwell said.
U.S. 27 and C.R. 64 in Avon Park, Elwell said, “is brutal. You saw a horrible accident there a few months ago.” A truck hauling fertilizer destroyed a milk truck and a pickup truck.
“That intersection is going to be under a complete changeover,” Elwell said. “I think that’s another four years away too.”
The timing of the red light at Hammock Road onto U.S. 27 has been changed, Elwell said. That will allow more cars in the queue to make a left turn onto U.S. 27. Vehicles are often backed up for several blocks at the busiest times of the day.
“FDOT had to be petitioned for this, and I appreciate (County Engineer) Gator (Howerton) getting with them and lobbying on our behalf,” Elwell said. “You will be able to get out in one or two light cycles, instead of three or four.
“And this is one of my pet peeves. The speed limit is 45 mph though Avon Park and Lake Placid, but 50 or 55 through Sebring. Why is it 55 at Lakeshore Mall?” Elwell asked. “That just doesn’t make sense to me, with the number of people who are trying to turn left, and all the creative lane changes, and then, of course, all of the semis not paying attention to all of the stop lights.
“We are going to ask FDOT again to look at that during the season,” Elwell said. “They conducted the survey through the summer, which was exactly the opposite of what we asked for.”
Weeds often grow knee-high in the medians along U.S. 27. Howerton said many of the islands will be replanted with low-maintenance peanut grass.