The outside lanes on 441 off of Payne's Prairie remain blocked off on April 4, 2018. (Cat Gloria / WUFT News)
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Untold Florida: Why U.S. 441 Across Paynes Prairie Is Still Just One Lane

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As rainy season is fast approaching, the two outside lanes on 441 beside Paynes Prairie will remain closed until sustained dry weather arrives.

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) spokesman Troy Roberts said tests on the strength of the road are conducted every few weeks, but with recent record-breaking rainfall on April 10, there is no hope for opening the lanes until dry weather returns.

“As far as I know, I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this,” Roberts said.

The two outside lanes on 441 south of Gainesville have been closed since the end of September 2017, after Hurricane Irma caused major flooding in the area.

“Back in September, it was about safety for motorists. Now it’s about safety for the road,” Roberts said.

Even though there isn’t visible water on the road, the base layer underneath the asphalt has been absorbing water like a sponge, weakening the road, he said. If cars were allowed on that part of the road, it may damage it, forcing FDOT to shut down the road again to resurface it.

Above: A timeline shows the impact flooding has had on 441 over the course of time before and after Hurricane Irma.

“We are at the mercy of mother nature – we can just hope we get drier sunny weather to dry the base layer,” he said.

The lanes may not be open, but Roberts isn’t concerned about the upcoming rainy season.

“Unless it’s a particularly rainy season, let’s say we open the road in two weeks, it would take a significant amount of rain to impact it again,” he said.

However, if it does get to the point where FDOT must close the road again after reopening it, that’s what they will do, he said. Once the outside lanes are reopened they will test the inside lanes as well to ensure that they’ve held up also.

Two deer walk at dusk near the south end of Payne’s Prairie. (Cat Gloria / WUFT News)

“The good news is we haven’t really had a lot of complaints about the road being closed,” Roberts said. “We haven’t had any traffic impacts.”

I-75 and the lanes that are open on 441 have been able to manage the traffic that is on the roads, he said.

Meanwhile, animals of Paynes Prairie are enjoying the high water, according to park manager Donald Forgione.

“Now that it’s spring, the pastures are green and the animals are happy,” he said.

The high water in the prairie is a cyclic condition, Forgione said. The last time the prairie saw water levels like these was after Hurricane Jeanne in 2004.

“Since man has been recording, this land has been called Paynes Prairie or Alachua Lake, depending on what condition it was in when they saw it,” he said.

The park staff had been providing the horses, bison and cattle with hay for three months, but since Spring, there was no need to keep feeding them, he said.

“The water has gone down in the prairie, that gives them more room and spring has arrived so they have more to feed on,” Forgione said.

Residents nearby said there hasn’t really been any effect on their land. Michael Miller, a worker at Goodwin Company reported buffalo on the property, but only back in Fall of 2017.

In regard to the levee breach from Orange Lake to Newnans Lake, the flooding it caused was only temporary, and it was fixed shortly after Hurricane Irma.

The area of Payne’s Prairie off of 441 remains flooded. (Cat Gloria / WUFT News)
The south end of Payne’s Prairie remains dry for animals to forage. (Cat Gloria / WUFT News)

About Cat Gloria

Cat is a reporter for WUFT News and Fresh Take Florida who can be reached by calling 954-657-3385 or emailing cgloria@ufl.edu.

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4 comments

  1. It all started when the water in Camps Canal went over Camps Canal Dike flooding Paynes Prairie and US-441. It is a very complex situation that raises groundwater levels locally and in Alachua Sink. All of the local surface flow in Alachua County is terminated at various sinkholes. The water level in those sinkholes represent local aquifer levels and determines how fast water will disappear underground. All of our creeks and streams in Alachua County are part of a “perched” system, which means, the surface water levels are well above normal groundwater levels and separate. The reason it is called “perched” is because there is a thick underlayment of clay that protects the aquifer from surface contamination. Paynes Prairie has this clay on the northeastern portion and water doesn’t soak in, but when water reaches the southwestern portion of the prairie (over by US441), there is no clay and the surface water can soak in causing much higher local groundwater levels including elevating the water level in Alachua Sink. With higher local groundwater levels Alachua Sink resists surface flow. There is also a hump in Paynes Prairie in the southwest that prevents water from reaching the area where water can soak in until the prairie is flooded. Water is usually kept lower on the prairie over and by the sinkhole, and burn the area over by US441 to prevent woody growth. If this trend continues, if we have a wet spring, the prairie could turn into a lake flooding I-75.

  2. I still remember the local lady who protested this situation back in 2017, complaining that local authorities hadn’t done enough to pump out the excess water!! Complaining to the wrong department, lady!

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