Once the Starke Bypass opens, First Coast families and drivers will have the option to drive on past or stop and stay for a while.
At first glance, the new bypass sounds like something you would expect in a big city. A new highway on the outskirts of town designed to help fix rush hour traffic.
“Big city traffic in a small town,” Florida Department of Transportation spokesperson Troy Roberts said.
Depending on the time of day, you might even wish you were sitting in Jacksonville traffic.
But this is NOT a big city. It’s Starke, Florida; a population of fewer than 6,000 people.
However, in talking to Starke residents, a question was posed: will it be the death of this small town or a surprise boost to their economy?
“It takes up to 30 minutes to get from one end of Starke to the other on a busy Friday night,” life-long resident and Beef-O-Brady’s General Manager Tina Harris said.
“Gator games you can’t even come to Starke because traffic is bumper to bumper.” Starke’s Beef-O-Brady’s is located in the center of Starke, right off Highway 301, the area where FDOT is trying to help.
Harris said traffic has always been a problem, but there hasn’t been a solution until now.
“We are a small a town and no one ever felt like it was needed at that time.”
Now, the solution is the Starke Bypass, a $90 million FDOT project designed to provide an alternate route for semi-trucks and families looking to bypass Starke.
FDOT said the primary focus will be having semi-trucks avoid driving through downtown Starke.
Roberts said the 7.3-mile Starke Bypass has been in the works for the past 20 years. The road is being built between County Road 227 and County Road 233.
According to FDOT, “The new roadway will consist of two travel lanes in each direction, and overpasses will be constructed over County Road 100A, the CSX Railroad, and County Road 229. Interchanges will be constructed along the new roadway to provide access to State Road 100 and State Road 16.”
“FDOT, Starke and Bradford County saw and said at some point this is going to be an
issue…so when the time comes we can have something in place that benefits the residents and well
as the motorist driving through,” Roberts said.
FDOT is also building a bypass in Baldwin.
By 2020, more than 25,000 vehicles a day are expected to travel on the bypass. By 2040, more
than 31,000 vehicles per day. Vehicles and wallets passing right around downtown Starke.
Initially, Harris said, local businesses were concerned about customers BYPASSING them once the highway opened, something that could destroy the town. Now, Harris believes, it could have an opposite effect.
“If anything it will make it easier for people to get to the businesses in Starke,” Harris said.
The project is expected to be completed by late 2019.