New U.S. 301 overpass is speedier, with a few hitches


Motorist travel along the newly constructed Highway 301/State Road 26 bridge on Wednesday, January 19, 2011.

Aaron Daye/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 5:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 5:43 p.m.

For commuters, the new State Road 26 overpass at U.S. 301 at Orange Heights is working as planned — trips to and from Gainesville are speedier without having to wait at the traffic light or for trains.



But with construction of the ramps ongoing, some businesses say the project is hurting them. And even the regulars for whom the trip is quicker said the ongoing work is making the trip somewhat difficult.

"It has cut down on the time. We often had to wait for the train and now we don't have to wait for the train and for the light," said Diane Lyons, who drives her son to school in Gainesville. "They still haven't gotten the merging on and off traffic done. The construction there — you have to slow down because people are getting in and out. Eventually, once they have that fixed, it will be helpful."

The Florida Department of Transportation opened the overpass in mid-December. The overpass cost about $10 million, most of which was federal money. It is 25 feet high and 1.7 miles long with the roadway connectors — the bridge itself is 278 feet long. Drivers have the option of using an old section of SR 26 to access two convenience stores and an adult media store at the intersection.

For now, however, a half-mile section of old SR 26 west to U.S. 301 is not open. Residents of Melrose or Earleton, for instance, who want to get to a convenience store at Orange Heights have to take the overpass west, exit it and then double back to the east.

A convenience store clerk said that business is down because of the closed road and the difficulty accessing the store.

Kathey Brown, working the produce stand at Brown's Farm at the eastern end of the overpass ramp, said business is way off.

"Our business has dropped probably half. I think once they get it done it might not be as bad, but right now people can't figure out where to get off. Getting on and off is a little tricky," Brown said. "A lot of our people come by [on the way] to work, to town, to the doctor or so. We are missing that traffic. Yeah, it's hurting us."

The entire project is set to be completed in the spring, according to the FDOT.

Meanwhile, some Melrose residents were concerned that a steady flow of eastbound traffic on SR 26 could cause back-ups at the light at the intersection of SR 26 and SR 21. But that is not happening because a longer green light has been programmed in for SR 26, said Mark Chiappini, whose family has owned a store and gas station at the intersection for decades.

Chiappini added that he has not seen an increase in business from people bypassing the Orange Heights stores.

"They made the light last longer. There have been some people commenting on it — ‘Wow, it lasts a long time now.' It's flowing through pretty good at the moment, but we haven't had a really big weekend yet," Chiappini said. "I haven't seen an increase in business yet. It's still pretty confusing out there. It's hard to get into Orange Heights."

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