Residents living in the vicinity of a road improvement project in Ponte Vedra Beach met with county officials Sept. 26, for the most part over concerns that the scope of the work will result in the loss of dozens of mature trees, among them some majestic live oaks.
The meeting was called at the request of the residents who became alarmed after finding red X’s spray-painted on trees marked for removal.
According to the residents, a meeting in December where officials explained the project – improvements to the intersection of Mickler Road and State Road A1A – didn’t show elements that would necessitate the trees’ removal.
The project will widen the roadway to allow for dual left turn lanes from Mickler Road onto S.R. A1A, a left-turn lane from Ponte Vedra Boulevard onto southbound A1A and an additional through-lane on northbound A1A. The $4.3 million project is being funded through impact fees and $1.6 million from the state Department of Transportation.
The project grew out of a North Florida Transportation Planning Organization study performed about six years ago. The county followed up and contracted with Matthews Design Group to design the project.
Widening the intersection to accommodate the additional turn lane necessitates alterations to the immediate approach on Mickler Road, and possibly the loss of some trees, but a proposed turn lane into the Portofino condominium complex and drainage improvements lie at the heart of residents’ concerns.
The Portofino turn lane, as well as a turn lane for the Mickler’s Landing shopping plaza, extend the impact of the project westward, necessitating the removal of more trees.
“We have these left turn lanes based on engineering judgement,” said St. Johns County Public Works Director Greg Caldwell.
But several residents attending the Sept. 26 meeting said the Portofino turn lane was not needed, as there were only 20 units in the community. No one at the meeting – including Portofino residents -- could remember ever having to wait behind someone turning in there.
“I think what a lot of us are asking for is for you to take a hard look at the turning at Portofino,” said Neck Road resident Nicole Crosby.
To address drainage, 12-foot-wide swales would be created on the north side of Mickler Road. To accommodate the widening, which tapers 1,500 feet from the A1A intersection to a point at Neck Road, the sidewalk and utilities would have to be moved. Residents are concerned that the work will damage 12 large trees in front of the Meditierra community that are not even among those slated for removal.
On Sept. 20, residents consulted with arborist Danny Lippi concerning the likelihood of tree impacts.
Lippi found that the majority of the trees – laurel oak, live oak and pignut hickory – have “varying levels of tolerance to root stressors commonly associated with construction and roadway improvements.”
These trees, he wrote, have shallow and expansive root systems. Design drawings show that work will be performed within the tree protection zones needed to maintain tree health and structure.
“Damaging roots too close to a tree’s trunk can lead to a tree that is at higher risk of failure due to sudden loss of lateral support roots, especially during high wind events,” Lippi wrote.
In addition, stresses to the trees would make them more susceptible to fungi, pests and disease.
“There are trees that we’re not going to be able to save because of the scope of the project,” said one resident at the Sept. 26 meeting, “but there are a number that we’re putting at risk mainly because of the aggressiveness of that taper.”
The county has put the contractor on hold and may request work be done on other parts of the project until this issue is resolved. Caldwell said no trees would be cut in the near future -- at least not until after another meeting with the residents in 30 days.
Though the meeting focused primarily on the trees, some residents raised concerns about a tiny island at the intersection where pedestrians must stand while waiting to cross. The new design keeps that island, which one resident called a “death trap” because cars turning to go west on Mickler Road from southbound A1A routinely fail to stop for pedestrians at the short crosswalk there.
Caldwell said officials would look at that.
The points residents hope to see addressed in the next 30 days are: