SEBRING — Shortly after barrels and barricades went up on the approaches to Sebring Parkway’s 90-degree turn, an excavator started ripping up pavement.
Since then, Gradall excavators, loaders, road graders and dump trucks have reshaped the ground at the turn for a two-lane roundabout, expected to open three or four months from now.
County Engineer Clinton “Gator” Howerton Jr. showed the Highlands News-Sun on Friday morning where an additional purchase of 0.712 acres from David Citrus Enterprises helped his crews move the roundabout slightly east and the multi-use path slightly west, away from it.
County commissioners agreed Tuesday to pay $18,896 for the lane, and as part of the agreement, to pave two driveways onto the Parkway from Davis Citrus property on the hill above the roundabout.
Commissioners also approved:
• Paving Dallas Street — For $4,129 and 1.5 acres of grove land from Lake Ridge Groves Inc. for right of way, the county will pay $100,996 to pave 1,548 linear feet of Dallas Street, a county-maintained unpaved road on Memorial Drive just south of the roundabout.
• Arbuckle Creek Road — The county will pay $4,640 to S.Y. Hartt & Sons Inc. for 0.456 acres of land to widen Arbuckle Creek Road and install a left turn lane at the entrance to the Highlands County Landfill.
Meanwhile, the only traffic at the former 90-degree turn on Sebring Parkway is heavy road construction equipment.
Even Road and Bridge Director Kyle Green, who started his career as an equipment operator, took the controls of one Gradall excavator Friday morning, opening the ground to widen and lower the western spoke for a better approach and slope leading out of the turn.
Howerton showed where he plans for a dedicated right-turn “bypass” lane to let eastbound traffic turn south toward downtown Sebring without stopping for the roundabout.
He said officials with the Florida Department of Transportation didn’t like the idea at first, preferring to have all traffic stop at the roundabout, as it is at all other traffic circles in the state.
However, Howerton placed a drone over the site and filmed traffic volume at peak times, showing how a large portion of the traffic heads inbound toward the downtown area from the direction of the highway.
FDOT relented, he said, but other features of the roundabout will remain the same as all others in the state, for consistency. That includes yield signs at all approaches — not stop signs.
All traffic entering the circle still must stop, watch and wait for vehicles coming around the circle from the left.
If it’s clear, they can go, Howerton said.
When asked how long it will take for completion, Howerton said he and Green haven’t set that time yet. It’s early in construction.
However, he said the county may likely open the roundabout for a few weeks before opening the completed Phase 3, to let drivers get accustomed to a two-lane roundabout before adding southbound traffic.
At Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, Beth Degnan of Lake Placid asked if the Sebring Parkway was for commuting or growth.
County Administrator Randy Vosburg said it would take pressure off U.S. 27. Commissioner Don Elwell added that, since Phase 3 doesn’t connect directly with the highway, it would likely carry mostly local traffic.
Development Services Director Benjamin Dunn also said several landowners in the area around Phase 3 and the existing Parkway, anticipating future development, had their land use changed years ago from agriculture to residential or commercial.
This week, as the county put out social media posts on the new construction, Howerton said some comments repeated earlier ones, questioning the need for Parkway expansion.
He recalled similar comments made when Parkway Phase 1 was built.
“The thing about roadways,” Howerton said Friday, “if you wait until you need it, it’s already too late. You’ve got to think 20 years down the road.”