BROOKSVILLE — Bev Lewis can pinpoint the beginning of the end of her once-thriving downtown Brooksville business.
It was the day in March 1993 that the state Department of Transportation switched Broad and Jefferson streets from two-way streets to a pair of one-way routes designed to whisk traffic through the city.
Within a few months, volume at Lewis Office Supplies & Gifts plummeted as much as 40 percent.
And it wasn't just her shop on Main Street. All around Lewis, businesses were hurting. Within the next year, La Boutique, a women's clothing store, shuttered its doors. So did Vern's Imports, a car repair shop. Soon, Lewis and her husband, Vinel, were forced to moved their store to another location outside the city.
"There was no longer any convenient parking downtown, and there were just too many trucks going too fast to make it safe for pedestrians," Lewis said. "So people just quit coming downtown to shop."
To many longtime Brooksville residents, the city's scenic downtown is a shell of what it once was, and many of them blame the one-way streets.
This pattern has done what the DOT intended — move traffic quickly through the city.
But it also has turned out to be a major obstacle in attempts to revive downtown, said Cliff Manuel, chairman of the Brooksville Vision Foundation, a nonprofit group that focuses on downtown revitalization.
Now, Manuel thinks he has a solution to the problem.
At the group's monthly meeting in August, Don Lacey, senior vice president with Manuel's firm, Coastal Engineering Associates, presented a plan to reroute commercial traffic on eastbound U.S. 41 (Broad Street) and westbound U.S. 41 and U.S. 98 (Jefferson Street), away from heart of the city.
The concept, mapped on an aerial photo, would include building a new half-mile stretch of road on vacant public and private land on the east side of Brooksville that would be part of a new route for U.S. 41. The connector would link Emerson Road at Jefferson Street to the existing U.S. 41 near Mondon Hill Road. The new route would take motorists on the connector, Emerson and the State Road 50 bypass.
The engineers also propose redirecting U.S. 98 away from the city's core and onto the SR 50 bypass, Broad Street and Ponce de Leon Boulevard.
Manuel described the plan as "highly speculative," meaning no feasibility studies, cost estimates or environmental factors have been assessed.
"It's just something we've been looking at that we feel has strong possibilities," Manuel said. "It's just one idea that's probably among many that could be considered."
Although he hasn't spoken directly with DOT officials, Manuel thinks the new routes would essentially fulfill the same mission as the existing one-way pair — efficiently moving commercial traffic from one side of Brooksville to the other.
"The DOT pretty much develops its transportation plans with one thing in mind, and that's finding the most efficient way to move goods and freight," Manuel said. "It's unlikely that they would consider changing what they already have without being presented a workable alternative to it."
Brooksville community development director Bill Geiger said that such a plan, if implemented, could not only benefit downtown, but also provide a needed boost to the city's east side, where residential and commercial development has stalled in recent years.
"It could provide a very positive impact," Geiger said. "Obviously, a lot of things would have to fall in place, but it's an alternative that could easily gain support in the community."
Manuel said he wants to present the proposed routes to city and county officials over the next few weeks to get feedback.
Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn said Friday that she hadn't seen the plan. But she also said she would be willing to consider any proposal to rid the city of the one-way roads.
"They have served no purpose except to hurt our economy and make the city more dangerous for pedestrians," Bradburn said.
"The sooner they're gone, the better."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.