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Florida DOT: Overhead Sign Changes Along I-295 Beltway Completed

Tue August 21, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

Sign changes that allow for easier travel along more than 60 mi. of I-295 around Jacksonville, Fla., are now complete. According to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), construction on the Duval County project began in December 2011, with overhead sign designations changed from SR 9A to I-295.

“Having a beltway with consistent signing and exit numbers posted on the signs will make the route along the I-295 beltway easier for motorists,” said FDOT Public Information Officer Mike Goldman. “It will particularly reduce confusion for out-of-town drivers who are uncertain about directions to various points along I-295. Motorists in Jacksonville are gradually getting used to these new changes along I-295.

“Actually, SR 9A was always meant to be part of the 295 system, but had to be signed according to certain standards and criteria,” Goldman explained. “The fact that 9A was built in segments is important, because this was done over a long period of time. But we finally have a complete beltway around the city.”

The contractor for the conversion was Tampa-based Highway Safety Devices Inc. (HSD). The Jacksonville office of Jones, Edmunds & Associates Construction Engineering Services managed the project.

“Maintenance of traffic was the biggest challenge regarding the successful completion of the project,” explained Highway Safety Devices Project Manager Donald Conner. “Only through the implementation of appropriate maintenance of traffic was this project able to be constructed in a safe and timely manner. Credit for this effort goes to Terry Barber, our MOT Superintendent.”

Conner explained, “Rain and high winds definitely played a factor in completing this project within the original contract time. For safety reasons, high winds prohibit us from being able to fly overhead sign structures and even large panels.

“During the procurement phase, it became apparent that managing the logistics associated with the fabrication, delivery and installation of over 600 individual sign panels would require extensive coordination and material tracking to ensure the project did not experience delays.”

Equipment used on the job included 30-ton (27.2 t) Terex boom trucks to fly overhead sign panels and ALTEC Hi-Ranger two-man bucket trucks to install panels. The sign sheeting was made from aluminum, while sign structures were formed from galvanized steel.

Each HSD crew typically had three persons assigned to it. Any work that required lane closures was done at night to minimize impact to the traveling public. Conner credits HSD’s project superintendent, sign, electrical and guardrail foremen for managing the project in a timely fashion.

All the SR 9A signs were changed to designate the roadway as part of the I-295 loop around Jacksonville. Modifications have been made to change signs to the “I-295 West Beltway” or the “I-295 East Beltway.” The signs on SR 9A have been swapped out for ones labeled “I-295 East Beltway,” and those on I-295 from I-95 in Mandarin to I-95 near the Jacksonville International Airport have been designated the “I-295 West Beltway.” Exit numbers also have been placed on the new signs changed on SR 9A.

Interstate 295, an auxiliary route of Interstate 95, is a beltway around central Jacksonville. The beltway consists of the West Beltway and the East Beltway, with I-95 serving as the dividing line. The entire highway carries a hidden designation as State Road 9A by FDOT. The West Beltway was constructed in the 1970s, while the East Beltway was built from the 1980s-2000s.

According to Florida transportation data, the first section of I-295 appeared in 1962, but disappeared a short time later. The current version of I-295 appeared on maps in the mid-1960s, as a loop around central Jacksonville, with the first section between I-95 in south Duval County to SR 134 in 1970, while the section from SR 134 to I-10 opened in 1973. The section from I-10 to Commonwealth Ave. opened in 1975, followed by the extension to I-95 in north Jacksonville in the late 1970s, completing the western section of the loop.

The I-295 East Beltway — formerly signed as SR 9A — was designated the Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway in a special FDOT ceremony in August 2009. After the Federal Highway Administration accepted the road as the eastern loop of Interstate 295 in 2010, the state was no longer allowed to name the highway.

Two decades ago, a series of sniper shootings and brick throwing attacks took place on I-295, the “West Beltway,” causing the death of one motorist after a concrete block landed on the hood of his moving car. Another motorist received a bullet wound to the face. The Florida National Guard was called out to patrol the roadway and AAA issued a special travel warning for the interstate. The 1992 attacks remain unsolved 20 years later.

Until now, SR 9A hasn’t displayed exit numbers on its signs. With the transition, SR 9A also will be included as part of the federal interstate highway system, making it eligible for federal funding.

Chris Beury, project engineer of Jones, Edmunds & Associates Construction Engineering Services of Jacksonville, said the transition required long hours for the installation of three overhead sign structures, five cantilever sign structures and a butterfly sign structure. Updating existing signing to reflect I-295, updating exit signs with mile marker designation and installation of mile marker post on the I-295 East Beltway also was necessary. The last of the overhead sign installations and updates were completed on July 9, 2012.

Work has taken place at 19 interstate exits and various cross streets which lead to I-295 and SR 9A. Some changes were made by placing overlay panels over parts of existing highway signs to indicate the new designations. The project contract specified 185 days to complete the work and allowed for additional time for weather delays and unforeseen field conditions. Lanes were allowed to be closed between 7:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., Sundays through Thursdays. The project construction cost was $1.3 million, and was funded through FDOT revenues.

In addition to the SR 9A job, FDOT is overseeing two other construction projects. On Interstate 95 crews are re-surfacing the road from I-295 all the way up to Atlantic Boulevard. Cracks are being filled in with new pavement and getting smoothed over. Most of the lane closings are overnight, so drivers won’t be inconvenienced. The multi-million project won’t be completed until 2014.

FDOT crews also are working on a project to widen I-10 between I-295 and Chaffee Road. That project should be finalized by the end of summer.

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