[VIDEO] South Thomas Drive CRA Complete

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.

I won’t spend a whole lot of time walking you through what they did, as we’ve discussed that in great length here, here and here – so let’s get right to the video!

When will the Thomas Drive CRA Project be Complete?

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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.

Thomas Drive CRA Update

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.

Past CRA projects include R Jackson Blvd (Beckrich) and Churchwell Road

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
  • Landscaping

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

The CRA is NOT a Bust [REPORT]

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.

Continue reading “The CRA is NOT a Bust [REPORT]”

FBR CRA – Underground Utilities Almost Done, Scenic Ponds Getting Close

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.

Continue reading “FBR CRA – Underground Utilities Almost Done, Scenic Ponds Getting Close”

CRA – South Thomas Drive Construction Update, Widening Road

When it comes to getting right down to business, the Front Beach Road CRA (short for community redevelopment area) in Panama City Beach is cranking out the first steps in making South Thomas Drive awesome.  The South Thomas Drive road, well known as a crater-ific, pitted nightmare of a road, is getting a huge shot in the arm by way of completely NEW road, widened travel path, sidewalks, beautiful landscaping and sweet street lamps.  Oh, and I forgot to mention all those ugly utility lines will be moved under ground; that’s huge!

Continue reading “CRA – South Thomas Drive Construction Update, Widening Road”

57 Reasons the New South Thomas Drive will Rock

The Front Beach Road CRA in Panama City Beach is set to change the face of the beach and reset the perception of all those that visit our beautiful area. Right now, driving up and down our main travel corridors is non-to-pleasing to the eye, what with the towering out of the ground utilities and lack of proper sidewalks and landscaping. BUT, that’s all in the process of change. Change is good, right?

Yesterday evening a community workshop was held at the CRA office to show off what’s in store for the next phase of the CRA (community redevelopment area), including South Thomas Drive, a section of Front Beach Road and the intersection of Front Beach Road, Middle Beach Road and North Thomas Drive.

Tip: You can learn more about the CRA, or you can read below for more details on this portion.

I’m going to warn you, what you are about to read will be long, but super rich with multimedia. Hopefully you’ll have a great idea as to what this portion of the cra will actually involve.

This roadways covered in this portion of the CRA form a loop, if you will around Laketown Wharf and a portion of the Signal Hill Golf course. The road runs right by Boardwalk Beach Resort, then passes by Pineapple Willies, through condo canyon (Laketown Wharf/Shores of Panama), goes right carrying you right past Wal-Mart and through the intersection just a little where Walgreen’s, Ripley’s and Backyard Burger rest. Included also is a little bit of the roadway called North Thomas Drive that would lead you down to the camp ground across from Club La Vela.

Here are the 57 Reasons the New South Thomas Drive will Rock

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Front Beach, Middle Beach, North Thomas Drive Intersection

  • This is the intersection described above that plays home to Ripley’s Believe it or Not!
  • They will completely redo the whole intersection, traffic lights and all
  • The new intersection will have an emphasis on pedestrian friendliness
    • Currently it is difficult for peds to cross because of the wide road ways
    • They will redo some of the existing pedestrian islands
    • Also, an additional pedestrian island will be added by Backyard Burger
    • Existing ped 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
  • Right smack dab in the middle of the intersection will be a huge decorative paver insignia of the Panama City Beach logo surely marketing the busiest intersection on Panama City Beach. Could Wal-mart have anything to do with that? hmmm
  • 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. You may have noticed their new sign and how it has recently moved back. They were getting it out of the way!
  • Pedestrian walkways will be very clearly marked
  • My favorite: all those ugly utility lines (power, phone and the like) will be moved UNDERGROUND!
  • Sidewalks will be installed
  • Cool street lamps will be installed
  • Lovely landscaping that will hopefully be taken good care of.

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The Circle K Intersection of Front Beach Road

  • This area covers the “curve” by Laketown Wharf and the entrance of Shores of Panama.
  • This area is well known for its traffic during peak seasons
  • Many in attendance were not happy with the plans as they did not seem to address the current problems
    • I talked with the owner of Pineapple Willies who was telling me that teh traffic problems there greatly effect his business every year
    • Many property owners there expressed their concern that during peak seasons it was very difficult for them to come and go from their residences
    • Some of the suggestions included widening the turn so that there would be two dedicated turn lanes because all of the traffic is broken up to turn right or left at the Circle K
  • The plans include a dedicated Tram lane for the multi-model transportation device
    • Many suggested to do away with this all together, but this route of the Tram service is integral in the Tram “looping” back to return to the west end of Panama City Beach
    • The goal of the Tram is to get people to park their cars and ride mass transportation systems, this could work great, if done correctly.
    • I think cars would be able to travel in this Tram lane, so they could use the Tram lane to turn right, right?
  • 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

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South Thomas Drive, North Thomas Drive Intersection

  • Located right by Alvin’s Island
  • They actually (they, as in The City of Panama City Beach) bought a huge chunk of land between Alvin’s Island and Signal Hill Golf Course
  • This land will be used to build a retention pond and a cut through roadway
  • 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 be charged with the goal of easing traffic into North Thomas Drive
    • Intersection will be “signalized”
    • Right now, the turn just sort of “juts” out, giving more bias to turning right then left, and is actually quite dangerous if you’re not paying attention.
    • The new intersection will have pedestrian walkways clearly marked
    • There will be a little right off-shoot to cover access still to boardwalk and thee other “local” businesses.
    • This will alleviate some of the traffic pressure during peak seasons and times of high traffic *cough* little wayner
  • Alvin’s Island will actually be a little “island”

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Huge Retention Pond in Place of Old Homeless Camp

  • This retention pond will actually be behind McDonalds in front of the Wal-Mart parking lot (bet you were always wondering what was behind all those shrubs at the end of the Wal-Mart parking lot, weren’t you?)
  • Right now there is a fence along the McDonald’s parking lot
    • I was told that this lot was the former site of a homeless camp, even though it is right in the middle of the action, it was actually well secluded. That is before the city came in and ruined the fun and cleared it all out.
    • I was also told that McD’s is anxious for this as when it is build, they will tear down their fence and open it up for their customers to use
  • This retention pond will be quite large and will feature landscaping and sidewalks all around
  • A “viewing” platform will be built with seating areas so that people can enjoy the view of the retention pond
  • Lighting, landscaping and sidewalks all around (did I say that already?)
  • The public will have access to the amenity from both Middle Beach and Front Beach Roads

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Below are some high-resolution renderings of the different aspects of the project.

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