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.
Jason Koertge has an awesome vacation rental business in Panama City Beach that focuses on remarkable properties around the Pier Park area. They range from 1 to 3 bedrooms, they’re clean, and amazing. He can be found lurat PCBLP.com.
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.
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”
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.