Residents, businesses and city personnel gathered at the German American Club on Pine Island Road Wednesday to take a final look at the plan to expand State Road 78 to four lanes from Burnt Store Road east to Chiquita Boulevard.
Almost everyone there seemed pleased with the improvements to the plan since it was presented last summer.
Of course, the idea of the meeting last year was to get public input so the project can move forward, and FDOT communications director Debbie Tower was pleased the plan was now so close to fruition.
"Just a year ago we were talking design plans, so we're pleased to be back and beginning construction in two or three weeks," Tower said. "Good things come out of our meetings. We try to interact with our community members and understand what they're looking for."
The project is expected to be complete by fall of next year, and will cost the city less than $1 million, which Councilmember Kevin McGrail said was one of the few positive consequences of the bad economy.
"The bad economy lowered the cost of right-of-way acquisition and our ability to get it built. It took the cost to us down from $50 million to $1 million," McGrail said. "We're ecstatic to see this get done."
The expansion, which will serve as an evacuation route for residents west of Burnt Store, is also expected to lure business to an area bereft of it.
McGrail said he expects big-box stores to look at the area once construction is complete.
Among the improvements are an additional left-turn lane at Bubba's and the German American Club so eastbound travelers can access them.
"It gives our guests the ability to turn left and out, which makes the egress and regress really good," said Jay Johnson, owner of Bubba's. "The FDOT worked with us and made it happen."
The original plan had no such access, only a break in the median in the South 40 at the club to allow for parking access during their many festivals.
There will also be a left turn eastbound at the Publix Shopping Center near Burnt Store, and an entrance apiece for large trucks at both Marine Concepts and Williamson and Sons.
"We have a lot of trucks that come in and out daily and our concern was having the full opening of both sides being able to bring them out," said John Long, facility manager of Marine Concepts.
There will be short-term hardships with construction. It could impact Oktoberfest, one of the city's biggest events, as well as other events at the German American Club.
Others, like Sheine Saeger, who operates Lake Row Coffee in the Publix Shopping Center, said she thought the project with wasteful.
"I would like to see the money spent on transit for the elderly and they need it. To spend $8 million that's harmful to commerce is wasteful," Saeger said. "They say it's for hurricane evacuation. Before Charley we didn't have one for 30 years. Do we really need bike lanes?"
However, most of the more than 100 at the meeting were happy that a project long in the making was about to happen.
"It's been on maps for so long, nobody saw it come to fruition, but I'm happy to say that in 2013 it's coming to fruition," McGrail said. "I see a lot of smiling faces here."