Communication Builds Our Community

Lake Wales Awarded $23 Million Complete Streets Grant for Connected Project

Funds Will Assure Completion of Ambitious Project to Revitalize City's Core

A happy city staff, as well as grant consultants Lee Hale and Hilary Waers of Hale innovation, were celebrating before, during, and after the city commission workshop Wednesday.

Robert Connors

Lee Hale and Hilary Waers of Hale Innovation celebrated along with city staff and visitors at the City Commission workshop Wednesday afternoon. Hale gave his associate much of the credit for shepherding the application through the process.

In a room decorated with balloons, City Manager James Slaton made the happy announcement that the city had received a grant award of $22.93 million from the US Department of Transportation.

The RAISE grant for "Complete Streets" will assure the completion of the Lake Wales Connected plan, a community-developed plan intended to revitalize the city's urban core.

The announcement brought enthusiastic applause from Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson, Commissioner Carol Gillespie, and a small group of citizens and city staff. No quorum was present for the announcement, but Commissioner Keith Thompson was listening in and commenting on a phone call from Ormond Beach.

"We continue to make history" Slaton said, in revealing the news to commissioners. "When we started down this path, we weren't sure about funding" for the Connected plan.

Robert Connors

A very happy City Manager James Slaton made the formal announcement of the grant award, which will bring to reality the city's ambitious plans to revitalize the city's urban core. Behind him, a happy pair of consultants from Hale Innovation were quietly celebrating the success of their service.

The plan, already underway with the reconstruction of Park Avenue, is being funded by a combination of Community Redevelopment Agency bond funds and the city's 'Mobility Fee,' a type of impact fee paid by new development with flexible spending parameters. Grants were the hopeful part of the formula.

"You can't count on grants, but we always try to go after what's out there," Slaton said, explaining that the city retained Hale Innovation as part of a master grants strategy. The cost to retain Hale cost "a fraction of a percent," Slaton said.

According to the USDOT website, the funded improvements will include "a road diet, a separated cycle track, expanded ADA accessible sidewalks, safety enhancements at crosswalks and railroad crossings, increased shade tree canopy cover and rain gardens, lighting, underground high-speed fiber and streetlight power sources, and streetscaping. The project will protect non-motorized travelers from safety risks by implementing a road diet to reduce vehicle speeds, adding separated cycle tracks, buffering sidewalks, improving crosswalks, and upgrading lighting for improved visibility. The project will create a more affordable active transportation network that improves public health and connects the downtown and the commercial area of the Northwest Neighborhood."

The grant, which will not require a local match, will address improvements to First Street and A Street, as well as Central and Lincoln Avenues.

"USDOT counts us as an urban area," Slaton explained, meaning that the city was competing with "New York City, Orlando, Tampa, LA..."

Robert Connors

The idea of a completed Connected plan seemed a distant goal at the formal groundbreaking ceremony in January, 2023

The announcement of the grant awards nationally featured seven of 148 projects nationwide, one of which was Lake Wales.

"After decades of underinvestment, the condition of America's infrastructure is now finally getting better instead of worse – and today we proudly announce our support for 148 more projects in communities of every size across the country," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in making the announcement.

The grant will cover the redesign and reconstruction of about eight blocks of First Street north of Orange Avenue to Wiltshire and a block south from Stuart to Central, and Central Avenue from First Street to Scenic Highway. It will also cover updates to Lincoln Avenue and A Street from Lincoln south to Wiltshire.

Courtesy City of Lake Wales

Improvements to Orange and Crystal Avenues, part of the Connected Plan, are already funded primarily under a grant obtained by Congressman Darren Soto.

A separate federal grant will include improvements to Orange and Crystal Avenues, also included in the plan. The city just approved a contract to begin sidewalk and streetscape improvements to a swath of the Northwest Neighborhood.

The Lake Wales Connected planning process was instigated by Lake Wales Main Street and a group of investors who funded the initial plan. Led by the planning firm of Dover, Kohl and Partners, the process involved hundreds of citizens and thousands of hours of work. It has since won two major awards.

Robert Connors

Planner Victor Dover of Dover, Kohl & Partners led citizens through the concepts and terminology of planning to build a consensus about what they wanted "Lake Wales to become when it grows up."

Other elements of the plan include a network of bike trails and sidewalks, street trees, lighting, and traffic-calming design, all part of the "complete streets" concept. Completion of the plan seemed a distant goal at the groundbreaking only 18 months ago.

"Through President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we're funding projects across the country to make roads safer, make it easier for people to move around their community, make transportation infrastructure more resilient to extreme weather, and improve supply chains to keep costs down for consumers," Buttigieg added.


Reader Comments(1)

Debpart writes:

Great coverage on this momentous event for the City. We can count on this site to keep us informed of the goings- on in Lake Wales.