Ocala gets $2.22M grant, key to downtown linear park
Published: Monday, March 5, 2012 at 9:39 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 5, 2012 at 6:12 p.m.
The city of Ocala has received a $2.2 million federal grant that will open the way for the development of a linear park along Osceola Avenue from Southeast Third Street to Northeast Fifth Street.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood approved the grant, which will be used to realign the Florida Northern Railroad lines that stretch from Southeast Third Street to Northeast Fifth Street on Osceola Avenue. This project is key to the development of the linear park, which will encourage people to walk between the downtown square area on the south side of Silver Springs Boulevard and the Tuscawilla Park area on the north side of the boulevard.
The railroad tracks will be moved about 2 feet to situate them more toward the center of the Osceola Avenue, said Sonny Allen, city spokesman.
The improvements could begin as early as October.
The grant requires a 10 percent match of $220,000, which will be shared among the city of Ocala, the Florida Northern Railroad and the Florida Department of Transportation.
The city will provide $74,000 in cash and $32,000 in staff time for design, bidding and constructing the rail improvement as its portion of the match. The remaining $148,000 will be paid by Florida Northern Railroad and the FDOT.
The railroad project also is intended to improve safety and freight rail operations by replacing degraded track and upgrading advance warning systems at six railroad crossings.
Florida Northern Railroad will oversee the construction of the rail and crossing improvements with a city inspector at the site.
“The city will prepare the contract and bid it but they will be overseeing the work,” City Engineer Bill Stevens Jr. said.
The track work has to be completed before the linear park can be built.
The linear park, which is intended to make downtown Ocala more pedestrian friendly, will feature wider sidewalks, decorative lighting, landscaping and power pedestals to accommodate special events. It also will accommodate bicyclists.
Although the linear park will stretch from Southeast Third Street to Northeast Fifth Street, the first phase will run from Southeast Third Street to State Road 40, Stevens said. When completed, Osceola Avenue between Southeast Third Street and Silver Springs Boulevard will be closed permanently to vehicular traffic except for a single southbound lane from the boulevard to Broadway Street. This will allow for circular traffic movement around the old Chamber of Commerce site. The relocated rail line will continue to operate.
Approximately 1,400 cars currently travel along Osceola Avenue each day.
Stevens said pedestrians and bicyclists using the linear park will be protected from the railroad. A fence — the type still to be determined — will be installed beside the tracks. The fence will be buffered by landscaping, most likely shrubbery, and a curb will be placed between the shrubbery and the walkway.
The city will pay for the linear park component of the project, which is estimated to cost between $800,000 and $1.2 million.