FDOT plans to improve State Road 200
Median plantings, pedestrian crossings and narrower lanes will help slow and aim traffic for better access to businesses and improve safety.
When even Marion County’s Assistant County Administrator for Public Works and Growth Services, Tracy Straub, admits, “No one likes driving State Road 200!” citizens know there’s a problem. Most anyone who drives SR 200 would agree, and, more importantly, so does the Florida Department of Transportation, which can do something about it.
The FDOT says it is aware of the problems drivers face on the busy road from Interstate 75 east to U.S. 301/Pine Avenue, and the agency has plans to try to alleviate some of them. In discussing improvement plans at a March 9 public meeting, FDOT Project Manager Ty Garner said, “The purpose of the project is to extend the operation life of the roadway and make the corridor safe for all users.”
During the meeting at the College of Central Florida’s Klein Conference Center, residents, elected officials and city and county staffers reviewed concept plans and discussed the proposed changes with Garner.
The goals for the road improvements include providing safer left-turns at signalized intersections; reducing congestion in the center turn lane; implementing safer driving speeds; enhancing pedestrian connections; and improving overall safety for all users.
The crash history of that section of roadway is sobering, with 879 crashes reported from 2014-2018, a 47% increase over the previous five-year time period. Of those, 496 were injury crashes, and 42 resulted in incapacitating injuries while four involved fatalities. Eight of the crashes involved pedestrians and 16 involved bicycle riders.
“Crashes have continued the upward trend with 301 crashes reported in 2020,” stated the FDOT’s video presentation at the meeting. The lack of median restrictions and the two-way left turn lanes were factors in the crashes; two-way left turns are often termed “suicide lanes” because they can allow forward-moving cars to approach each other without barriers.
SR 200 is currently a seven-lane divided roadway with three travel lanes each way. The center lane was always intended for left turns, but the FDOT also noted that type of turn lane was designed for roads with fewer lanes and lower posted speeds. The speed limit currently on those sections of road is 45 mph.
The most significant improvement proposed is the replacement of the center left turn lane with a raised landscaped median; the plantings will allow drivers to see opposite direction traffic but not allow left turn crossovers. Garner said, “Those will be low-growing shrubs. They won’t obstruct sight lines for users.”
The FDOT will also narrow and restripe the traffic lanes to 11 feet, which will slow and calm traffic speeds.
The locations of the new left-turn intersections are under review. The goal of the changes is to continue to allow access to businesses on the road while still improving safety and avoiding driving conflicts in the center lane.
Ocala business owners Jon and Sonya Tyler operate the Meeple Movers Boards Games Café at 3101 SW 34th Ave. in the Shoppes at Paddock Park plaza.
“I think the median is a great idea,” Jon Tyler said. “Far too many people use the middle lane of SR 200 as a passing lane or make blind turns across three lanes. It seems like every day there’s another wreck visible from our plaza.”
Three new pedestrian-hybrid beacons are also planned. This is an overhead traffic signal that is put into use when pedestrians or bike riders want to cross. Once the signal is activated, the lights will turn yellow then red, stopping vehicle traffic and allowing for safe crossing. The proposed new intersections with pedestrian-hybrid signals are planned for:
SW 35th Terrace and SW 34th Avenue, near the Equus Inn and Bank of America on the southeast side and the Panda Express and Chick-fil-A on the northwest side.
SW 32nd Avenue and SW 26th Street, near the Texas Roadhouse and Regions Bank on the southeast side and Wells Fargo Bank and Tidal Wave Auto Spa on the northwest side.
SW 12th Avenue and SW 10th Street, near Marion Technical College and at the start of the overpass section leading east to Pine Avenue/U.S. 301.
The design phase has a $1.8 million cost and construction costs are currently estimated at $13.1 million. Garner said the department hopes to get construction bids completed in spring of 2024, with actual construction starting in July or August of 2024.
Although construction will affect traffic, Tyler wasn’t too worried about its impact.
“I doubt the construction or change to road design will have a significant impact on our business as there are other roads to reach us from,” he said. Many businesses along those stretches of SR 200 can be accessed through alternate entrances.