Short of a bit of landscaping and some finish work, the South Thomas Drive CRA is complete! They’ve been working on this project since September of 2009 and regardless of delays, setbacks and disappointed expectations, the improvements look awesome. So, before you start flaming off in the comments about how you know how to run a project of this magnitude so much better and how if YOU were running it it would have been all perfect, just go take a drive through there and enjoy it. It’s really fantastic.
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The Thomas Drive CRA project is not unlike a lot of other large construction projects (specifically road projects). Not only do they seem to last forever, they also seem to fall victim to a variety of delays. The interesting thing about this project, compared to projects in other areas is that it’s essentially disrupting the oldest area in Panama City Beach. Talking to Mario Gisbert, the Director of the CRA on the beach, he was telling me the variety of objects and their sizes they’ve unexpectedly found underground has been a true game of strategy to work with.
Today we’re going to explore the original timeline, where they’re at now with the project and just when we’re going to get our road back – which is soon, I promise.
But first, if I may, I’d like to make a request. You see that little share button to the left? If you click on that, you can share this article with all your friends on Facebook. If you like this article, do me a favor and share it with your friends.
Original timeline and the nature of its slide
Let me preface this section by reiterating how large this project really is. When it comes to completely overhauling how the utilities are handled and putting in all new roadway, all the while keeping the roadway open to the public, it is a very large undertaking. Shoot, take away the utility overhaul component and you’ve got a fairly simple project. However, with this project, they completely redid all of the infrastructure – all of it. So, it has taken quite a bit of time.
Their original timeline goaded the project for completion in January of 2012, this month. Construction originally began in September of 2009.
The challenge with a project of this nature is that you have power, water, sewer and other utilities that need to remain functional for the duration of the project. So construction consists of preparing the areas, installing new utility lines, switching to the new utility lines, THEN removing the old ones, then off to the finishing work. Of course, if along the way they find, say, a piece of concrete the size of a small car under the ground, in the way of where a line is to be laid, then it needs to be excavated. All of these unexpected excavations cost extra time. Rain days cost extra time. Adding work to the project to the benefit of all, once they realize a change needs to be made adds extra time.
As of right now, we’re looking at approximately 30 extra days due to rain delays, 45 extra days due to unforeseen conditions and 30 extra days added for additional work to make the project better. Just when this project will draw to a close is below. 😉
Note: just think about the fact that we ONLY had 30 rain days out of 28 months! Good thing it hardly rains here.
What the project looks like today
Construction is funny in that it always looks like it’s taking forever. Then, all of a sudden, just when you feel like you can hardly take it anymore, it’s done! Remember Pier Park? It seemed like they were moving dirt with those huge Volvo trucks for a year before they even started doing anything else. Then all in a couple months they through up some concrete walls, put siding and paint on them and move in some stores.
So it is with this CRA project. As mentioned, there is an extremely large amount of infrastructure work. It seemed like there was something going on for a long time with really no visible changes. That’s because the work that was happening, the changes, if you will, were happening underground. If you could x-ray the ground before and after, what you’d see is a whole new world.
What better way to show you than pictures.
With the golden arches to the right and Laketown Wharf to the left, what you see in the middle will be an expanded and widened Front Beach Road. The utilities have all been relocated and those ugly power lines will be gone in a matter of weeks. You’ll see huge changes to this corridor in the next 6 weeks and everything will be drivable by spring break.
This is the right turn from Front Beach Road to the South Thomas Drive loop. If you were traveling towards the camera in this shot, you’d see directly in front of you, Ripley’s Museum.
This is the recently signalized intersection of The South Thomas Drive loop road and South Thomas Drive. Alvin’s Island is just out of shot to the right and Boardwalk Beach Resort is behind the camera. This was always a dangerous and difficult pathway during heavy traffic seasons.
This is a tractor. They use it to scrape and level dirt. They wouldn’t let me drive it. 😦
To the right in this shot is the Boardwalk Beach Resort corporate offices and condo resort check-in center. To the left is Alvin’s Island. This roadway will allow continued access to those and other local businesses and provide a shortcut right to Thomas Drive.
In this shot we can see the curve that will take you to the Thomas Drive intersection. Again, Alvin’s Island is to the right.
This is the amenity pond area right there next to the previously looked at Thomas Drive / South Thomas Drive intersection. The thing that’s cool about this water mitigation area is that they’ve made this into a usable amenity. Sidewalks are in, there will be lighting and tons of indigenous landscaping. See that spot to the right there? Yep, park benches. This will be an area to recreate.
I know what you’re thinking – why’d he take a shot of a sprinkler head? This is symbolic of a landscape plan that will require maintenance and upkeep. Not only will there be an obligation to keep the area beautiful, you can expect grassy areas and a groomed area for recreation.
To the right in this shot, you can see the condominium tower at Boardwalk Beach Resort. I love this shot because it shows the curvature the sidewalk has in some areas. Meant to give the stroller a “meandering walk”, the sidewalks are given character with texture and framing.
This is one of the tram loading areas that, before now, you’ve only seen in plans. Those power lines to the left, they’ll be gone in a matter of days. All the utilities have been switched to the underground lines.
The new South Thomas Drive. Median. It’s a wonderful thing.
This was the ‘ol nightmare curve – with the stop sign on the northbound traffic and none in the opposite direction. It was confusing, dangerous and poorly designed. The new layout is wider, safer, no stops and will flow much better.
This is what one well known developer once called Condo Canyon. You can see how wide the roadway is there now. It’s looking finished and should be open to the public in the coming weeks.
This is the South Thomas Drive / Front Beach Road intersection.
The project will be completed by. . .
The original timeline called for completion this month. But, with the variety of things that have come up along the way we’re not looking at roadwork completion date of beginning of March. Their goal is to have the roadways completely operational in time for Spring Break. The landscaping and beautification of the amenity areas will take place during the month of March to be completed by the end of that month.
At this point, almost all of the infrastructure work is complete and they’re about ready to begin on the roadway work at the Front Beach Road, Middle Beach Road intersection. We’ll see everything pull together in the next 6 weeks. At this point, any major slides are really quite unlikely since we’re so close to the end.
So that’s it, this whole project is geared to be wrapped up by the end of March. I for one will be glad to have our road not only back, but in a condition it has never been in before.
Summary of what this project will bring to us
So maybe you’re just tuning in here and not exactly sure what this project will do for us as a community.
I think you should read: 57 Reasons the New South Thomas Drive will Rock – I have all of the improvements spelled out there.
The Thomas Drive CRA is rounding the final corner of construction. This CRA has been really huge and is on schedule to be complete January 2012. Construction began September 2009. The CRA is responsible for upgrading our road infrastructure and has been successful in beautifying main corridors over the last few years.
Improvements to the road, broken down by area
Front Beach Rd Middle Beach Rd, N Thomas Dr Intersection
- They will completely redo the whole intersection, traffic lights and all
- The new intersection will have an emphasis on pedestrian friendliness
- They will redo some of the existing pedestrian islands
- An additional pedestrian island will be added by Backyard Burger
- Existing pedestrian islands will be beautified
- The famous dedicated right turn lane from west-bound Front Beach Road that turns onto Middle Beach will be done away with, median curb and all
- But, that lane will still be a turn only lane, just not dedicated
- Actually, they will ad an additional right turn lane making the total number of right turn lanes from Front Beach to Middle Beach TWO
- The right turn from North Thomas Drive onto Front Beach Road (by the Ripley’s museum) will be pulled back to make it a larger radius.
- Pedestrian walkways will be very clearly marked
- All utilities will be moved underground
- Sidewalks will be installed
- Street lamps will be installed
The Circle K Intersection of Front Beach Road
- The plans include a dedicated Tram lane for the multi-model transportation device
- Of course, all utilities will be moved underground
- Sidewalks will be installed
- Landscaping will be installed
- There will be clearly marked crossing areas with pedestrian medians
- There will be periodic cut-outs for the Tram loading and unloading stops
South Thomas Drive, North Thomas Drive Intersection
- Located right by Alvin’s Island
- Large retention pond and a cut through roadway behind Alvin’s
- The retention pond will be designed to be a beautiful amenity
- Sidewalks all around with sitting areas
- Landscaped and lighted
- It looks as thought there may be a little roadside parking for those that may want to enjoy
- The roadway cut through will ease traffic onto North Thomas Drive
- Intersection will be “signalized”
- The main intersection will be moved from south of Alvin’s Island, to just north and behind it.
- There will be a little right off-shoot to cover access still to boardwalk and the other “local” businesses.
- The new intersection will have pedestrian walkways clearly marked
- Alvin’s Island will actually be a little “island” surrounded by roadways
Retention Pond behind McDonalds
- The retention pond will be large and considered and “amenity”
- There will be paved walking paths around the pond
- Landscaping and lighting around the pond
Current status of the project broken down by area
South Thomas Drive
- Curbing is complete
- Sidewalks should be installed in the next couple weeks
- Once sidewalks are done, they’ll put down the limerock, then pave
- All utilities are moved and operational underground
- Paving should begin in the next couple weeks
- Once paving is complete, they’ll shift traffic to do the other side of the road
The Circle K Intersection of Front Beach Road
- All utilities are moved and operational underground
- Doing night work from 8 pm to 8 am daily
- Put much of the road work off until off season to alleviate traffic issues
South Thomas Drive, North Thomas Drive Intersection
- All curbing work is done
- They are ready to pave sidewalks
- Limerock and road pavement will come next
- Retention pond is complete
- All utilities are underground
Photos of the project so far
In a meeting this morning with Mel Leonard, the Planning Director for Panama City Beach, it was confirmed that a new Walmart coming is official. The location will be at the corner of Powell Adams Road and Panama City Beach Parkway (Back Beach Road) and the store size will be 156,000 square feet, roughly 70% the size of the existing Panama City Beach Walmart Supercenter.
At this point, the type of store this will be is just speculation. Although it has been said that this will be a higher-end store that would better compete with Target than the current Super Center.
Recently a new Walmart store was opened on the west end of South Walton County. I personally suspect the new Panama City Beach store would be similar to this one.
Improvements to Powell Adams Road
In order to get approval for construction of a new place of business this size, an extensive traffic study had to be completed. As a result of the traffic study, Walmart is required to pay for the infrastructure improvements that are needed in order for this area to handle the increased load that will come.
- Powell Adams Road widened to 4 lanes with center turn lane (5 lanes total)
- Widening to be taken 1700 feet down Powell Adams from PCB Pkwy
- PCB Pkwy and Powell Adams Road intersection to be signalized
- Three PCB Pkwy entrance points into plaza
CRA-grade improvements to Powell Adams
The part where Panama City Beach (and us as residents) come out on top is that Walmart has agreed to “over-improve” Powell Adams Road to the same standard as R Jackson Blvd and Churchwell Road.
Improvements that come with this “over-improvement” include:
- Underground utilities (a huge added bonus)
- Street lights
The requirement for construction doesn’t include many of these aesthetic improvements, but the city has agreed to reimburse Walmart up to $790k for adding those improvements in their infrastructure construction.
The CRA would have done this eventually, and will finish off Powell Adams Road on down the road, but for now, we’ll get an upgraded roadway for a fraction of the cost it would normally be.
At this point, a concrete start date on construction has not been set, but officials are optimistic (and on target for) a construction start date of spring of 2012 with a projected open date of spring 2013.
Keep the comments coming, they’re read
Although final plans or a formal commitment for a new Walmart has not been made, an agreement between the Panama City Beach CRA and Walmart has been made for them to pay for road improvements.
The Panama City Beach CRA, or Community Redevelopment Area is a mechanism by which our local roads and infrastructure are being improved over time to look better, be more beautiful and to better handle increased load and demand. Past CRA projects include the Churchwell road improvements, R Jackson Blvd improvements and the currently ongoing South Thomas Drive improvements.
The Powell Adams improvements include all the treatments you’d find in a normal CRA project, including underground utilities, sidewalks, street lights and landscaping. In addition, of course, the road way will be widened to four lanes. The improvements are projected to be around $2 million.
The CRA had existing plans to treat Powell Adams road, but it was several projects away – the CRA is working it’s way west from it’s current development location. This agreement with Walmart stipulates that they will pay for the improvements and the CRA will reimburse them at a later date. By doing the improvements this way, the City is expected to save almost $500k.
There is no expected start date just yet, but you can expect more information on this in the coming weeks from us.
This topic has created a very lively discussion on our other post, how do you feel about this improvement now?
Now that we’ve dispelled the rumor of the CRA being a bust, it’s time for an update on what’s happening out there. There has been a ton of activity with the construction of this project, although much of it may not be noticeable on the surface.
Much of the work up until this point has been underground. Things like the repaving of streets, installing sidewalks and streetlamps and putting in landscaping only takes a few months – and incidentally, that’s what people notice the most, and it’s also what happens at the end of the project. So, it’s easy to assume nothing’s really been going on with it for a long stretch of time, when the reality is that tons of stuff has been going on, just out of our view. Continue reading “CRA Update – S Thomas Drive One Year Until Done”
Every since The News Herald ran an article stating that the CRA progress will slow due to the economic downturn, we’ve been fielding a seemingly endless stream of questions. Concerned residents, condo owners and vacationers are worried that the existing CRA construction would halt, leaving gaping holes in road-work progress and landmark eyesores all over east Panama City Beach. This article should offer some clarification along with a warm cup of good news.
It’s been a while since we’ve talked about the CRA, and frankly, it’s not looked like a lot of progress has been made – on the surface. But, most of the work that has happened to date, has been mostly out of sight. “During initial phases of construction, most of the work involves underground utilities, we dig stuff up, bury it back, dig up more stuff, and bury it again,” said Mario Gisbert, the Panama City Beach Assistant City Manager.
You’ve driven past the sign probably a thousand times since it was posted; some of you passing with excitement, others with disdain. Either way, Harley Davidson Motor Cycles is coming to Panama City Beach. The acceleration lane headed West from the intersection of Panama City Beach Parkway and Gulf Blvd is almost complete and the crews have one more layer of asphalt to lay. After that, its vroom, vrooom!
Businesses like Harley Davidson moving into our area is always a good thing, a sign of the economic prosperity to be had on our wonderful beaches. However, we at PCBDaily.com have read the comments (see exhibit A) about Bike Week and although we are fans of the event, the chromed-out weekend remains one of PCB’s most polarizing topics. Some love it, some hate. Harley Davidson’s arrival onto our beach can only mean that the bike week has more staying power than many realize.
We expect construction to begin soon on the latest addition to the Harley Davidson family of Dealers.
This construction appears to be the first of the “Commercial Opportunities” that are offered by the St. Joe Company along Panama City Beach Parkway (or Back Beach Road, as some still call it). This and other land parcels are convenient to Frank Brown Park and Pier Park.
As growth continues on Panama City Beach… We’ll keep you posted!
Over the last 18 months, crews have been working quickly to widen the length of Highway 79 from two lanes to four lanes with much of it split with a large grass median. For those of you that travel up 79, you know this has been a heaven send and has made the road much easier to navigate. Last week at a city council meeting they voted to move forward on the extension of the widening south of Back Beach Road, or Panama City Beach Parkway.
One of the big hang-ups all along has been how to execute this with the dynamics of an awkwardly designed Y intersection that put businesses close to the corridor of travel.