Levy paves away on CR 337, Alachua awaits funding

Road maintenance crews are in full force finishing up the repaving of County Road 337 in Levy County.

But Alachua County still awaits a safety grant and funds to do the same on its section of the two-lane shortcut from Bronson to Newberry.

At a regular Newberry Commission meeting in April, CR 337 was a topic of discussion for the commissioners and City Manager Mike New.

New presented the idea of establishing a rural highway improvement program for Alachua County and moving CR 337 to the top of the list.

Sharp corners, crumbling pavement and no shoulders are at the top of the list of reasons why the road that links Newberry and Bronson is in dire need of repair, New said.

Alachua and Levy counties share the maintenance of CR 337. Alachua County’s portion starts at Highway 26 (Newberry Road), just west of downtown Newberry.

The roughly 14-mile-long road has had its share of accidents and fatalities, which New said is the driving force behind giving it priority maintenance. Alachua County is responsible for the upkeep of 8.4 of those miles.

According to New and a resolution passed by the commission, the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) reported 48 crashes in the last five years along CR 337, including three fatalities.

“We all know it’s an unsafe road,” New said.

While Newberry was trying to figure out how to get its portion of the road moved up on the repair list, Levy County Road Department administrative coordinator Alica LaLonde said in April that Levy County was in the process of advertising for a contractor to widen its five-mile section of the road and add a shoulder.

Eight months later, road crews are weeks away from finishing the Levy County portion of the road, and it’s easy to tell where Levy County ends and Alachua County begins.

According to Alachua County Public Works director Ramon Gavarrete, CR 337 remains No. 85 on the county’s Capital Improvement Project (CIP) list, but he’s hoping that in January 2022, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) will be able to reprioritize that master list.

In June, Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe thanked the BOCC for its approval and installation of safety enhancements on the dangerous curves section of the road.

“I drove the curves last night, and the new paint and reflectors do make a difference in the visibility going through the curve,” Marlowe posted on his Mayor Jordan Marlowe Facebook page. “I think it is a very appropriate stop-gap measure while we work on the funding to repave the road.”

Alachua County applied for about $1 million in funding for five straight years in an effort to fix the 1-mile curved portion of the road where most accidents happen, Gavarrete said 

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) is “a core Federal-aid program with the purpose to achieve a significant reduction in traffic fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads” according to its website.

Gavarrete said the rest of the road repavement will cost about $8 million and noted that Levy County has an advantage for earning grants for road projects because it qualifies in size for the small county grants which he was accustomed to getting when he worked in rural areas.

As the funds coming from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) of 2021 become available, they could move projects such as the upgrade to CR 337 up the list. According to the National Association of Counties breakdown of ARP uses, “Counties are not allowed to use funds for general infrastructure spending outside of water, sewer and broadband investments or above the amount allocated under the revenue loss provision.”

So while the ARP funds cannot be applied directly to finance CR 337, they can be used for road projects related to the maintenance of or building of water, sewer and broadband investments.

Reimbursement of those road projects means the funds saved by a government on qualified ARP projects could be applied to other projects. The funds from the ARP must be spent by the end of 2024

Gavarrete said a new road project priority list is under construction and will eventually be adopted by the BOCC mid year in 2022.

Until then, road projects are being tackled in the order they appear on the 2015 Road Infrastructure Inventory and Status list.

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