VIERA — Back in November 2007, the Viera Boulevard bridge over Interstate 95 opened to traffic, linking U.S. 1 with West Viera and triggering retail development north of Space Coast Stadium.
Now, land-clearing and preliminary construction work is underway to convert this bridge into an unusual "diverging diamond" I-95 interchange — and spark a second economic boom in the vicinity.
The future southbound exit ramp is taking shape, clearly visible from the bridge sidewalk. Yellow bulldozers, excavators and steamrollers park alongside large mounds of mulch and dirt at a fenced staging area just south of the Sonoma subdivision.
Weather permitting, target completion date for the $17 million project is spring 2019, said Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Olson.
"The quadrants of land at the new interchange ideally position this part of Viera as the premier location for new hotels and restaurants in proximity to USSSA’s Space Coast Stadium Complex," said Todd Pokrywa, senior vice president of land use planning and development for The Viera Co.
The U.S. Specialty Sports Association has guaranteed Brevard County officials that its events at 15 baseball and softball fields will generate 75,000 nights of hotel room nights a year for the next three years. Afterward, USSSA should generate 100,000 room nights a year.=
"These visitors will require hotel rooms, restaurants and entertainment venues beyond our existing offerings and, therefore, we will expect to see continued demand for growth in this area to serve these visitors, our 23,000-plus residents, and the 10,000-plus employees working in the 350-plus businesses throughout Viera," Pokrywa said.
"In addition, the location is unequaled in terms of accessibility and visibility in Brevard County for corporate office relocations. The land adjacent to the new interchange is in the heart of Brevard County and provides an opportunity for corporate headquarters to plant a flag, with interstate exposure, in one of the nation’s top best-selling master-planned communities," he said.
Engineers expect the new Viera Boulevard interchange to relieve traffic congestion at the nearby I-95 Wickham Road exit to the south and Fiske Boulevard exit to the north.
Viera Boulevard lanes will "crisscross" at a traffic light, and drivers will shift over to the left side while navigating the overpass. Traffic will crisscross back to the right side at a second traffic light, located at the opposite side of the overpass. This design eliminates left-hand turns that face approaching traffic.
"The (diverging diamond interchange) was chosen based on analysis of environmental impacts, right-of-way requirements, estimated costs and projected traffic operations," Olson said.
Work began Nov. 6, and the general contractor is Jr. Davis Construction Co. of Kissimmee. A 660-foot "eagle zone" has been staked out surrounding a large eagle nest in the woods near the northeast quadrant of the interchange. Workers are monitoring the nest, and no work will occur within 330 feet during eagle nesting season.
The Viera Co. paid FDOT $500,000 for interchange planning studies and $870,000 for design and permitting, Pokrywa said. Also, the company donated four tracts of property totaling about 20 acres and valued at more than $4.3 million.
Driving through the Sarasota diverging diamond intersection.
Last May, Florida's first diverging diamond interchange opened to traffic in Sarasota at Interstate 75 and University Parkway. This 12-lane, $74.5 million DDI is the largest in America.
In Palm Bay, construction began last February on the $26.7 million DDI at I-95 north of Micco Road. Pilings have been installed, and paths for the ramps have been cleared.
Palm Bay leaders believe the future interchange at the planned southern terminus of the St. Johns Heritage Parkway will trigger construction of thousands of homes and commercial properties across the surrounding forest and pasture lands.
Elsewhere in Florida, FDOT is building diverging diamonds in Miami (Dolphin Expressway at Northwest 27th Avenue and Northwest 57th Avenue) and Yulee (Interstate 95 and State Road 200). Others are under design in Broward, Clay, Duval, Orange, Polk, Seminole, St. Johns and Volusia counties.
Neale is South Brevard watchdog reporter at FLORIDA TODAY.
Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or firstname.lastname@example.org.