Some fear plan will curb business

The project would build curbs along the intersection at U.S. 441 and Main Street.

James Bennett, right in blue shirt, from the Florida Department of Transportation meets with Economy Motors owner Al Hale, left in white shirt, and about 30 community members Wednesday to discuss plans to put curbs along the intersection at U.S. 441 and Main Street.

KRISTEN HINES/Special to The Sun
Published: Thursday, January 6, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 6, 2005 at 12:14 a.m.
Business owners, residents and city officials Wednesday protested the Florida Department of Transportation's plans to build curbs along the intersection at U.S. 441 and Main Street, saying the curbs would block business entrances.
The curbs are part of a resurfacing project along U.S. 441 from Bev's Better Burgers to the Winn Dixie shopping center.
Whenever the DOT resurfaces a street, it brings it up to current state and national safety standards, which require the curbs, said Chip Skinner, project spokesman for the DOT.
Al Hale, owner of Economy Motors, a used car lot, said he applauds the newly constructed sidewalks, but said the proposed curbs would hamper his business. He said 90 percent of his customers drive through that entrance.
"When you don't have any access to a business, you don't go there," he said.
In his parking lot, where the meeting was held, Hale hung a dozen brightly painted posters. He also placed a bright yellow and green painted coffin with four baby dolls crying over the coffin in his N. Main Street entrance.
Mayor Kirk Eppenstein said residents are concerned about the volume of traffic at the intersection but business owners "don't want to have modifications put them out of business. And I think that's a fair and just concern," he said.
Skinner, however, said the curbs will keep vehicles from crossing the sidewalks.
"This intersection is not very pedestrian friendly," he said.
The curbs also will allow rainwater to drain more efficiently into storm-water drains, he said. In heavy rains, the water sometimes floods the intersection of N. Main Street and U.S. 441.
In addition to the new curbs and sidewalks, the DOT is redirecting northbound traffic on Main Street. Vehicles will soon turn right onto NE 4th Avenue, drive a block, then make a right onto U.S. 441. The DOT plans to widen the street at the 4th Avenue turn by about 12 feet to make it easier for large trucks to make the turn, said James Bennett, design and project manager for the DOT.
Cheryl Blanton, owner of a real-estate business sandwiched between U.S. 441 and 4th Avenue, is concerned that the new double curb on 441 will make it harder and more hazardous for vehicles entering her business. "It's going to be pretty congested," she said.
Susie Wilson, who grew up in a white cottage behind Economy Motors, favors the project. She said she believes DOT's proposed construction will make the intersection safer, especially for schoolchildren.
"This is progress," she said. "That's what happens."
Before the protesters left the meeting, they decided to meet with the DOT again on Jan. 14 at 2 p.m. in the High Springs Civic Center.
DOT officials said they would look at possible alternatives to accommodate business owners while ensuring the safety of pedestrians and motorists.

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