When will the Thomas Drive CRA Project be Complete?

by January 19, 2012 • 13 comments

Jason Koertge has an awesome vacation rental business in Panama City Beach that focuses on remarkable properties around the Pier Park area.  They range from 1 to 3 bedrooms, they’re clean, and amazing.  He can be found lurat PCBLP.com.

The Thomas Drive CRA project is not unlike a lot of other large construction projects (specifically road projects).  Not only do they seem to last forever, they also seem to fall victim to a variety of delays.  The interesting thing about this project, compared to projects in other areas is that it’s essentially disrupting the oldest area in Panama City Beach.  Talking to Mario Gisbert, the Director of the CRA on the beach, he was telling me the variety of objects and their sizes they’ve unexpectedly found underground has been a true game of strategy to work with.

Today we’re going to explore the original timeline, where they’re at now with the project and just when we’re going to get our road back – which is soon, I promise.

But first, if I may, I’d like to make a request.  You see that little share button to the left?  If you click on that, you can share this article with all your friends on Facebook.  If you like this article, do me a favor and share it with your friends.

Original timeline and the nature of its slide

Let me preface this section by reiterating how large this project really is.  When it comes to completely overhauling how the utilities are handled and putting in all new roadway, all the while keeping the roadway open to the public, it is a very large undertaking.  Shoot, take away the utility overhaul component and you’ve got a fairly simple project.  However, with this project, they completely redid all of the infrastructure – all of it.  So, it has taken quite a bit of time.

Their original timeline goaded the project for completion in January of 2012, this month.  Construction originally began in September of 2009.

The challenge with a project of this nature is that you have power, water, sewer and other utilities that need to remain functional for the duration of the project.  So construction consists of preparing the areas, installing new utility lines, switching to the new utility lines, THEN removing the old ones, then off to the finishing work.  Of course, if along the way they find, say, a piece of concrete the size of a small car under the ground, in the way of where a line is to be laid, then it needs to be excavated.  All of these unexpected excavations cost extra time.  Rain days cost extra time.  Adding work to the project to the benefit of all, once they realize a change needs to be made adds extra time.

As of right now, we’re looking at approximately 30 extra days due to rain delays, 45 extra days due to unforeseen conditions and 30 extra days added for additional work to make the project better.  Just when this project will draw to a close is below. 😉

Note: just think about the fact that we ONLY had 30 rain days out of 28 months!  Good thing it hardly rains here.  

What the project looks like today

Construction is funny in that it always looks like it’s taking forever.  Then, all of a sudden, just when you feel like you can hardly take it anymore, it’s done! Remember Pier Park? It seemed like they were moving dirt with those huge Volvo trucks for a year before they even started doing anything else.  Then all in a couple months they through up some concrete walls, put siding and paint on them and move in some stores.

So it is with this CRA project.  As mentioned, there is an extremely large amount of infrastructure work.  It seemed like there was something going on for a long time with really no visible changes.  That’s because the work that was happening, the changes, if you will, were happening underground.  If you could x-ray the ground before and after, what you’d see is a whole new world.

What better way to show you than pictures.

With the golden arches to the right and Laketown Wharf to the left, what you see in the middle will be an expanded and widened Front Beach Road. The utilities have all been relocated and those ugly power lines will be gone in a matter of weeks.  You’ll see huge changes to this corridor in the next 6 weeks and everything will be drivable by spring break.

This is the right turn from Front Beach Road to the South Thomas Drive loop.  If you were traveling towards the camera in this shot, you’d see directly in front of you, Ripley’s Museum.

This is the recently signalized intersection of The South Thomas Drive loop road and South Thomas Drive.  Alvin’s Island is just out of shot to the right and Boardwalk Beach Resort is behind the camera.  This was always a dangerous and difficult pathway during heavy traffic seasons.

This is a tractor.  They use it to scrape and level dirt.  They wouldn’t let me drive it.  🙁

To the right in this shot is the Boardwalk Beach Resort corporate offices and condo resort check-in center.  To the left is Alvin’s Island.  This roadway will allow continued access to those and other local businesses and provide a shortcut right to Thomas Drive.

In this shot we can see the curve that will take you to the Thomas Drive intersection.  Again, Alvin’s Island is to the right.

This is the amenity pond area right there next to the previously looked at Thomas Drive / South Thomas Drive intersection.  The thing that’s cool about this water mitigation area is that they’ve made this into a usable amenity.  Sidewalks are in, there will be lighting and tons of indigenous landscaping. See that spot to the right there?  Yep, park benches.  This will be an area to recreate.

I know what you’re thinking – why’d he take a shot of a sprinkler head?  This is symbolic of a landscape plan that will require maintenance and upkeep.  Not only will there be an obligation to keep the area beautiful, you can expect grassy areas  and a groomed area for recreation.

To the right in this shot, you can see the condominium tower at Boardwalk Beach Resort.  I love this shot because it shows the curvature the sidewalk has in some areas.  Meant to give the stroller a “meandering walk”, the sidewalks are given character with texture and framing.

This is one of the tram loading areas that, before now, you’ve only seen in plans.  Those power lines to the left, they’ll be gone in a matter of days.  All the utilities have been switched to the underground lines.

The new South Thomas Drive.  Median.  It’s a wonderful thing.

This was the ‘ol nightmare curve – with the stop sign on the northbound traffic and none in the opposite direction.  It was confusing, dangerous and poorly designed.  The new layout is wider, safer, no stops and will flow much better.

This is what one well known developer once called Condo Canyon.  You can see how wide the roadway is there now.  It’s looking finished and should be open to the public in the coming weeks.

This is the South Thomas Drive / Front Beach Road intersection.

The project will be completed by. . .

The original timeline called for completion this month.  But, with the variety of things that have come up along the way we’re not looking at roadwork completion date of beginning of March.  Their goal is to have the roadways completely operational in time for Spring Break.  The landscaping and beautification of the amenity areas will take place during the month of March to be completed by the end of that month.

At this point, almost all of the infrastructure work is complete and they’re about ready to begin on the roadway work at the Front Beach Road, Middle Beach Road intersection.  We’ll see everything pull together in the next 6 weeks.  At this point, any major slides are really quite unlikely since we’re so close to the end.

So that’s it, this whole project is geared to be wrapped up by the end of March.  I for one will be glad to have our road not only back, but in a condition it has never been in before.

Summary of what this project will bring to us

So maybe you’re just tuning in here and not exactly sure what this project will do for us as a community.

I think you should read: 57 Reasons the New South Thomas Drive will Rock – I have all of the improvements spelled out there.

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1 Greggt January 19, 2012 at 10:17 am

Thanks for the update Jason, honestly I did not think it was that far behind schedule even before your article.
A couple of questions:
A, What about the Hwy 98/Hwy 79 intersection? Is that a “dead project” after all the proposals a couple of years back?
B, What’s next for the CRA, the Walmart Road project (I believe Powell Adams Road)?


2 Cathy January 19, 2012 at 10:47 am

Great up-date Jason…. I do believe you covered everything that anyone could possibly ask for. You did sum it up quite well being that the construction involves one of PCB “oldest” driving areas. And with that being said one would never know how things were laid underground back then…… I imagine it would take a long time to sort out all the mass confusion that work crews would find between sewer, water, wiring etc.
I measure the work each time I visit PCB Summer to Fall to see what progress is made. Sometimes I notice it right away and sometimes it seems to be at a standstill.
I guess we all just need to be patient…… something I might add we all need more of! lol lol “Good things come to those of us who wait” or so they say.
I know when this project is completed it will be beautiful with sidewalks, lamps, palms etc. It will be an event to celebrate & that’s what we will all plan for!
Thanks again for the great article…. it was well worth my morning read.
Have a blessed day!
Cathy/Tennessee 🙂


3 Sherry January 19, 2012 at 2:16 pm

thanks for the update and photos. very helpful to those of us who don’t live in the area but want to keep tabs on things.


4 Linda January 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Great update. Anxious to see what it will look like next time I’m in PCB


5 Don January 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Really enjoyed the update. We’ve been coming down during April for over 25 years now and will be looking forward to seeing this much needed project completed. The changes we’ve seen in the last 25 years(some good, some bad) are quite amazing when I think back.


6 Christy January 21, 2012 at 2:49 pm

WOW! This was very detailed and down to the point. Good Job! You have answered every question I had plus more. Can’t wait to see the finished work. Thank You Jason!


7 Biggen January 28, 2012 at 7:01 pm

This article reads like propaganda for the city for a project that was mismanaged and ill fated to begin with…

This project started at the end of September of 2009 and was to be finished within a two year time line. That would mean a September/October of 2011 completion date. It was never orginally slated to be completed in January of 2012 and if the city is telling you that, then that is a flat out lie. Now we are yet again be told that it “should” be done at the end of March if everything goes according to plan.

I’m so tired of hearing about the “monumental” task of moving utilities from above ground to underground. It is not like this was a secret. This was the whole point of the project to begin with. Yes, it is a hard and time consuming task to do but R.B Baker and Gulf Atlantic Electrical bid on the project (and won) so it isn’t like they didn’t know what they were getting into. They are professional contractors/electricians, correct? They are supposed to work within the confines of the contract, not give excuses of why they can not.

Secondly you didn’t mention anything about DRMP (the original engineers who designed this “makeover”) of being fired by the City so that the City could take over the project at reduced costs. You think that didn’t cause a delay to construction when you fire all the engineers who designed the project?

Most of us business owners along this corridor didn’t want the project to begin with. It has been a hardship to say the least. Dusty/filthy parking lots, power losses, multiple telephone outages (thanks Gulf Atlantic for hitting fiber lines on a daily basis and then putting duct tape over the break to “cover” it up), erosion issues, traffic problems, customer turning around and not knowing how to get on ones property because of the cones/barrels, etc… The list goes on and on. And all for what exactly? To add a couple of rention ponds the city is going to call “parks” and to make it pedestrian friendly even when people don’t want to walk around or take a silly tram that the city is trying to ram down our throat! I don’t understand why this council thinks people want to ride an open air tram in the middle of July in 100 degree heat around the beach. It just won’t happen…

I and many others who work/have a business along this corridor will be elated when this project is finished. God help the business owners west of the Circle K when the city decides to start on that project.


8 Greggt January 29, 2012 at 11:01 am

I’m sure the construction has been tough on you for the last couple of years. However from the looks of the parking lots in the area it does not look like it has effected business that much.
Actually a delay of this magnitude is not that unusual in a project this large. I’m not debating your comment of terminating the engineering as I really can’t comment. I can say that there is a cost starting to bring PCB out of the 1950/1960’s. As a business owner, you can’t have it both ways, you want PCB to improve its image to attract additional tourists but do not want the issues that go with it.


9 Biggen January 30, 2012 at 8:00 am


Very few of us owners actually asked for this project much less the hardships that came (still continuing) along with. Had it been left to us owners who actually own property along this corridor and put to a vote, this project would have never made it out of the design phase and ground would have never been struck.

I am glad it is near its completion but for something like this to last through 3 Spring Breaks seems absurd. The city, through trying to save money, decided not to accept bids that would have put contruction crews on the project at night or weekends (unlike what FDOT typically does to lessen the impact of construction). So basically work only progresses Monday through Friday from 8 – 5. The city should possibly rethink that strategy if they continue with CRA construction in the future…


10 Jason Koertge January 30, 2012 at 8:26 am

The improvements weren’t necessarily particular to the pleasing of local business owners, although many local business owners I know in the area area elated about it. The improvements are part of a city-wide main corridor improvement to increase impact capabilities and enhance beautification.

As we grow, like Gregg said, it’s important that we bring our area up to modern times. Wider, newer roads, underground utilities and sidewalked and landscape areas are all part of that. As our area commands more tourism traffic, it’s crucial that we continue to enhance the appeal of our public spaces.

I can’t speak specifically on the budgetary concerns, but I can say they’re financing this thing all with bonds in a deteriorating bond market with security that’s not as solid as it was intended as a result of the housing bubble. Matched with grants and other facets of creative financing, they’ve been able to pull this thing through. Have they been able to buy the BMW of construction process? Nope. They’ve had to tighten their belts and get this project done in a way that was as budget conscious as possible.

I’m not a cheerleader for the city, I’m a realist. And while I more than welcome your criticizing comments, Biggen, I ask that if you’re going to be critical, at least have the nuts to do it under your real name. Faceless criticism isn’t constructive and has the undertone of nothing more than a complainer.

I can complain about anything, and we have 30,000 readers here to listen, but people don’t want to hear me complain, but they’d love some constructive criticism.


11 Greggt January 30, 2012 at 10:12 am

Biggen I think if you took a poll of business and property owners along the beach you will find your views not only among the minority but as hard to find as one of those 9% that actually approve of the job our Congress is doing.


12 Cathy February 1, 2012 at 3:17 pm

For all it’s worth our family did not come to PCB for about 6 yrs in a row, this was back when my husband and I were raising our child and did not really have the funds to come. In all this time being away & it may have been longer than 6 yrs. PCB grew in leaps and bounds!
Gregg, your comment is right on target about bringing PCB out of the 1950/1960’s. Imagine our surprise when we first returned to see all the high rise condo’s and eye appealing improvements! It was a beautiful welcoming sight.
I went through some long ago photos of our vacations in PCB back when my father used to take us as children to The Georgian Terrace (used to be there) beside Fountain Blue on 98….. talk about memories!
You are right dear, nothing can change for the better without cost involved. Old saying: One has to spend money to make it!
I love what PCB was in the past & I love it better each & every year I get to return for vacation.
I will pray that the construction is finished soon and runs into no more stumbling blocks.
Cathy/Tn. 🙂


13 Rick Howe February 2, 2012 at 10:45 pm

As a resident living in the South Thomas Drive area, I’d like to say the inconvience has been huge, with road closures, flag men, and traffic jams, etc. The time line on this project (3 years) has been the greatest I’ve ever seen for this length of roadway. The mud and dust in our area and our property has been substantial.
I’m pleased that the project is being done, but I believe there have some planning mistakes.
The new median on South Thomas Drive cancels the option of Beach Blvd. residents to make a left turn on to South Thomas Drive on about eight streets. Now all traffic must travel to the west end of Beach Blvd. if they wish to go west on South Thomas. This increases the amount of traffic in that area, which is making residents in that area unhappy, and, dangerous as the foot traffic from Laketown Wharf to the beach is there and often heavy (lots of children, attended and unattended) in that street.
It appears no parking has been considered for the area. For the Triathalon, Ironman, any event at LeVelas or the Boardwalk, hundreds of cars would park all along South Thomas Drive. It appears all this parking has been eliminated.
The traffic congestion at Pinapple Willie’s has always been a problem during evening hours. Many of us believe this again is poor planning. Building a median there will be nice but probably hinder traffic flow. Much of the parking in that area has been eliminated also.
Jason, I’ve talked to Richard Jackson and the project manager but gotten no satisfaction or feed back. I was basically told “let’s see how it works out”. I appreciate your article, and am looking forward to the finished project. I sincerely hope it makes it safer for bike riders and walkers in that area, and makes it easier to come and go from our homes during events.
Incidently, it seems like the name of the roadway from Front Beach Road south toward Pinapple Willie’s should be changed from Beach Blvd. to South Thomas Drive. The present situation can be confusing at times.