Access roads to Okeechobee neighborhoods closing for days

OKEECHOBEE, FL (WFLX) - Imagine having no way in or out of your neighborhood for days or having to choose whether you stay outside or inside your neighborhood during that time.

That's what more than 50 Okeechobee residents are facing as the only access point to their neighborhood prepares to close.

Residents of the River Acres neighborhood, along with several additional homes along 144th Trail, will not be allowed to drive across the train tracks in front of their neighborhood for three days starting next week.

There is no other way into their neighborhood.

County leaders say trains have a risk of derailing because of the condition of the tracks and they need to be repaired.

The tracks are in front of the entrance to dozens of homes.

"I'm out of luck," said resident John Featherstone.

He won't be able to drive his car across the tracks, even in an emergency. "You can't go anywhere," Featherson said.

County leaders are advising residents to park their cars on the other side of the tracks. Then, they say, residents can walk to their cars and still get to wherever they need to go.

Even those like Featherstone, who live half a mile from the tracks. "I can't walk. I am a diabetic. I have diabetic ulcers. I can't walk," Featherstone said.

He's also worried about emergency crews reaching him. "We're about 30 miles from town as it is and it takes time during the best of times to get out here," Featherstone said.

"It's going to be a difficult situation, but it's something that has to be addressed," said Okeechobee County Commissioner Bryant Culpepper.

Culpepper says the county is working to make sure operations still run smoothly.

Culpepper says a fire truck and rescue response vehicles will be left inside the neighborhood.

He also says a citizens patrol will make periodic trips to the area to make sure vehicles are safe that are left outside the tracks.

Additionally, Culpepper says some neighbors have volunteered to drive people to and from the tracks so it is a short walk across the track to their cars.

With the open land in the area, Culpepper says a helicopter could land inside the neighborhood to access residents in serious health emergencies.

"If an individual has an emergency and has to get into town, then we'll have vehicles on the other side that can transport them into town," Culpepper said.

Featherstone says he is hopeful the county has prepared for every situation, as he prepares to hunker down. "I've got a bottle of scotch and a couple hundred dollars worth of groceries, so I'm OK."

Construction starts June 23.

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