ORANGE PARK, Fla. – The Florida Department of Transportation on Monday started a project to add two northbound auxiliary lanes on U.S. 17 in Orange Park from south of Wells Road to Interstate 295.
There are only 8,400 residents in the town of Orange Park, but more than 70,000 vehicles pass through every day. Nearly 60 percent of Clay County residents work in other counties -- mostly in Jacksonville.
Adding the two lanes is intended to improve traffic flow through the U.S. 17 corridor. One of the new lanes will take traffic to I-295 southbound to the Buckman Bridge, and the other will take motorists to I-295 northbound to Blanding Boulevard.
Commuters say as a result, congestion along Blanding Boulevard and U.S. 17 has become more and more of a headache.
"Traffic is bananas, aka crazy," said Lawrence Chambers, who works at Subway off U.S. 17. "We don't like it. It's a hassle."
The work will also include extending turn lanes from U.S. 17 south to Wells Road east and Old Orange Park Road, and from Wells Road east and Old Orange Park Road to U.S. 17 north.
The project also includes drainage improvements and relocating utilities in the area.
Since October 2010, FDOT has been working on a $64.5 million project along I-295 and Blanding to help alleviate congestion, but the project has forced more traffic to divert to U.S. 17. That project is expected to wrap up early next year.
As for the new project, residents have mixed feelings.
"Yes, it will expand the area and will also help the flow of traffic better, but we don't need it right now. It's just too much, way too much," Chambers said.
"Everybody coming in off Wells and 17 trying to get onto 295 and the Buckman, every morning it's backed up all the way to Kingsley and stuff," said John Soultanian, who works at the Poker Room off U.S. 17. "Construction will make it worse, but it's going to be pretty good."
The $4.9 million construction project should be done in the fall of 2014. The project contract specifies 365 days to complete the work and allows extra time for weather delays, holidays and unforeseen construction field conditions.
Lane closings are allowed Monday through Friday on U.S. 17 northbound between 7 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. and U.S. 17 southbound between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.
J.B. Coxwell Contracting Inc. of Jacksonville is the contractor on the job.