Lakeland businesses prepare for Florida Avenue to be shut down for entire month

FDOT, CSX improving rail crossing on Florida Ave

LAKELAND - Driving through Lakeland may require some extra patience for the next month, as construction crews prepare to shut down one of the city's busiest roads.

The Florida Department of Transportation and CSX are redoing the approach to the rail crossing on Florida Avenue to make it sturdier, so it lasts longer.

Workers need to shut down the road near Main Street for an entire month to complete the project.

"I don't recall a closure lasting as long as this one on a road like Florida Avenue, so certainly, this is going to be significant," said Chuck Barmby, Transportation Planner for the city.

He's been trying to get the word out to businesses and groups in the area about the project, and the posted detour that will take drivers away from downtown.

Barmby said all downtown businesses will remain open and will be accessible.

Some worry it may be too big of a hassle.

"That's going to throw a lot of people off," said Ann Rye, Owner of Traditions Unlimited. "We've got bad economic times and every one of those things that impacts that, just makes it that much harder to stay in business."

City officials said they asked FDOT if it could work on half of the road at a time, to keep traffic flowing, but FDOT said the rail crossing is too narrow for that.

A spokesman for the project, who is representing FDOT, said it will take a month because they need two weeks and CSX needs an additional two weeks. He said regulations do not allow the two to work at the same time.

One of the owners of a new club and restaurant in Lakeland called The Socialite, said they plan to start notifying customers of the project.

"There is an economic impact to having something closed for so long.  We would hope to minimize it on our part," he said.

The burning question for them and so many other businesses is will traffic delays and a construction mess stop customers from paying a visit.

Barmby said the project had to be done, so there really were no other options.

"The intent at this point is to try to make the closure as painless as possible," he said.

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