Ludlow Lane resident John Westhoff said that when construction first began on the Matanzas Woods Parkway interchange at Interstate 95, in May, he could feel his whole house rattling. He was dealing with it. Until all the trees leading up to his property line were knocked down. Now, visible through the scattered branches of his crape myrtles, a large mound of dirt sits with construction vehicles perched upon it.
“When we had made the decision to purchase this home, we did so because (unlike many other homes in this area) it had a lovely view of trees and nature instead of a view of another home’s backyard,” Westhoff wrote in an email to Mayor Jon Netts and Councilwoman Heidi Shipley. “I would hope that you could understand how devastating it was for my wife and I when we first started seeing these very trees being knocked down.”
The Federal Highway Administration approved the interchange justification report submitted by the county in March 2011, and a groundbreaking for construction was held May 18, this year. At the groundbreaking, County Commissioner Frank Meeker talked about the need for the interchange.
“It’s a project that’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I know the board is particularly happy having this project come to fruition, about 17 years after the devastating wildfires that pointed out the need for an additional interchange. I remember the old jokes back in those days, when everybody said, ‘Yeah, the animals can get out over the land bridge, but the citizens of Palm Coast are kind of stuck.”
But the interchange is hoped to provide more than just an evacuation route.
“It will relieve traffic off Palm Coast Parkway as the city continues to grow — and it will still grow,” said Matanzas Woods resident Brad West. “It’s going to become more and more necessary, and I think a lot of people will welcome it in the long run,” he continued, adding that the interchange could also lead to commercial development.
David Lusby, vice president of Palm Coast Holdings Inc., agrees that the city’s north end is underserviced.
“If you look at that north end, on the east and west side of (Interstate) 95, there is virtually no commercial services without a fair drive,” he said. “I think that over time, the interchange will help that north end develop neighborhood commercial that will service their needs at a more convenient location.”
Lusby and Palm Coast Holdings also have business interests in the interchange, as the new traffic pattern will route drivers past Palm Coast Park, a currently undeveloped 4,700 acre mixed-use development located approximately one mile south of the existing Interstate 95 interchange in the northwest corner of Palm Coast. Plans for Palm Coast Park include single-family and multi-family residential neighborhoods and projects; commercial development, including a power center that will be anchored by national retailers; an industrial park with rail access; an office park; a big box retail center; a K-8 public school; a community park and several neighborhood parks; and two fire stations.
“We’ve always felt that there is a percentage of people who live on that end that commute north for employment,” Lusby said. “Being able to get on and off at Matanzas starts to change traffic, which should change focus to Palm Coast Park. Now that (construction) is actually started — it’s real and not just something planned — we’re excited.”
The project is expected to be completed April 6, 2016, but Matanzas Woods Parkway will reopen Aug. 9, in time for the beginning of the school year.
“I think the growth that’s going to come with it will be more positive than negative,” West said.
While Lusby and West are both excited about the possibility of growth on the north end, Westhoff feels that if the interchange was planned so long ago, the city should have never allowed homes to be built so close.
“As it turns out, the city does not care at all about how such a project would affect the quality of life and the property values of the handful of homeowners that had the misfortune of purchasing a home on the future site of an exit ramp,” he wrote in his email, adding that as a resident, he felt misinformed about the project.
Looking at the mound of dirt rising through the trees of his backyard, Westhoff said, “As much as I like having an exit ramp so close, I never thought I would be living on an exit ramp.”
May 4 Began construction
July 5 Began closure of Matanzas Woods Parkway
Aug. 8 Planned opening of Matanzas Woods Parkway
April 6 Planned project completion
Source: Flagler County