The Florida Department of Transportation is widening and resurfacing State Road 21 (Blanding Boulevard) from County Road 218 to Black Creek and the project is set to be complete by June 2022.
The construction has remained constant since its start in February 2020, impacting traffic times and lane usage for drivers. Several local businesses along the strip have faced, and continue dealing with, the loss of customers due to the driving conditions.
Once complete, the $16.4 million project will add two lanes to the 4-lane section of Blanding Boulevard between County Road 218 and Black Creek. The County Road 218 bridge over Black Creek will be replaced to provide a wider bridge in order to accommodate the improvements within the project corridor, according to FDOT.
The goal of the project is to provide more efficient east-west corridors for travelers.
Signs along the road advise drivers to certain entrances for businesses like McDonald's and the Circle K gas station — however, local businesses along the road are feeling the impact from customers no longer willing to make the drive.
“I’ve had at least four people tell me they won’t be coming back until the construction is done,” said Debbie Mosley, owner for Debbie’s Decorators Workroom & Fabrics in Middleburg.
Customers have told her they do not feel safe making the U-turns into the parking lot of her business, nor do they feel protected pulling out of the lot and back onto the road, she said.
Mosley’s shop has been open for approximately 22 years at the Middleburg location and suffered from a lack of foot-traffic during the Covid-19 pandemic as well, she said.
“I lost a lot of customers during the pandemic, but was able to remain open because I service facilities like hospitals and automobile shops that remained open to the public during the crisis,” Mosley said. “Unfortunately, though, I know other businesses have not been as blessed.”
One of those businesses is Middleburg’s Cedar River Seafood restaurant that abruptly announced its closure on the restaurant’s Facebook page on Feb. 6.
“We are sad to announce that after 27 years we are closing our doors. Please visit us at one of our other locations. This page will be converted into Cedar River Catering.
Thank you, Middleburg for a great run!”
Abbi Bell, the owner of the Middleburg restaurant, and the daughter of original owner, Roland Bell, called the closure of the restaurant a “tough decision.”
She noted factors such as the pandemic, property rent increases, staffing shortages and Blanding Boulevard construction all contributed to her decision to close.
Another company impacted by ongoing construction is Wild Things Exotic Animals in Middleburg; a family-run pet store providing customers with a variety of exotic animals such as lizards, crocodiles, ferrets, skinny pigs and other hybrid breeds.
Katlyn Cole, an employee and reptile specialist at the shop, said the insertion of a median in the middle of Blanding Boulevard outside their shop now requires customers to make a U-turn in order to access the shop.
“It used to be wide open so people could just shoot across,” she said. “But ever since the median showed up, we can definitely notice a decrease in customers.”
She and the other employees estimate that numbers have dropped by roughly 50 people who used to be regulars at the shop; they now see them significantly less.
The traffic and delays have impacted hours and employee transportation, too, said Mike Woodruff, owner of Dreamette Ice Cream Middleburg.
“The traffic all around Middleburg right now is just awful,” he said. “It’s impacting everyone, not just the business owners. People can’t get in on time, they can’t get home on time. Everything is backed up.”
Woodruff said that gas pipelines have been hit three times since the start of the construction, shutting down his ice cream shop for two to three hours at a time. Nobody from the FDOT has been in communication with him about the issue, he said.
“I hope when the construction ends, things will go back to normal,” he said when asked about the project’s completion. “But, really, this has left a lasting impact. Anything that helps is something I look forward to.”
Local business owners can contact the FDOT directly to request signage that helps customers navigate the entrance to their shops more easily, FDOT Community Outreach Manager Hampton Ray, said.
“We certainly understand and appreciate the patience from the public as we work to reduce congestion along the corridor,” he said.
Sara Peasants, FDOT Community Outreach specialist, said that FDOT works to minimize inconveniences to the traveling public as well as residents and businesses that may be located within the project limits.
“We do our best to be good neighbors during construction and balance the needs of the various groups using the infrastructure where work is taking place,” Peasants said in an email. “ We realize that construction can be inconvenient at times, but recognize that it’s a short-term inconvenience that allows us to implement long-term transportation solutions for the communities in our district.”
For businesses seeking signs, or further communication with FDOT, they can contact 904-360-5480.