The MPO is considering a plan to build 6 new interchanges west of I-95, at a cost of over $75 million each. This doesn’t even include land acquisition costs. Recall that the PBIA flyover debacle cost over $150 million dollars, so this project could easily cost close to one BILLION dollars to build out.
Kudos to County Commissioner Paulette Burdick for pushing against this absurd proposal.
When Curtis Lewis’ family opened the Okeechobee Steak House in 1947, Okeechobee Boulevard was a two-lane road.
If local transportation planners get their way, what is now an eight-lane road would rise up and over the restaurant some day as part of a massive urban interchange project.
“At this point, I’m not worried because I don’t see where they’re going to end up getting the money,” said Lewis, whose restaurant sits just west of where Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard merges with Okeechobee.
None of the six proposed interchanges in Palm Beach County has any money earmarked yet. But preliminary estimates put the combined construction costs at $446 million — or an average of roughly $74 million each. And that doesn’t include the other expensive necessity of purchasing land for the rights of way.
“By the time you do them all, you’re (almost) over half a billion dollars,” County Commissioner Paulette Burdick said Thursday.
State transportation officials will offer recommendations next month to the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization for ranking which interchanges should be done first.
At their monthly meeting Thursday, MPO board members only briefly discussed the urban interchanges: four on Okeechobee Boulevard at Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, Military Trail, State Road 7 and Jog Road; one at Northlake Boulevard and the Beeline Highway in Palm Beach Gardens; and one at Forest Hill Boulevard and State Road 7 in Wellington.
Construction on any of them wouldn’t start until 2025 at the earliest. But Burdick made it clear she thinks the idea should be scrapped now.
“It will have a devastating effect on all of the businesses on Okeechobee Boulevard,” she said. “I would really stress looking at other modes of transportation as an investment in the future instead of more roadways and interchanges.”
Residents at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens have been complaining about the proposed flyover at Northlake and the Beeline.
A more in-depth evaluation of the six proposed urban interchanges — a term used for a road that goes up and over another road — is expected at the MPO’s April 17 meeting.
“You can make that conversation very short,” Nick Uhren, the MPO’s executive director, told the board Thursday.
“If the board wants to adopt a policy that says we don’t like grade-separated interchanges, then we won’t have to do any more analyses. That’s certainly an option on the table. I professionally believe that there are potentially corridors where it makes sense to consider additional interchanges.”
Although Uhren didn’t cite any examples to the board, several major intersections are projected to have high traffic counts over the next 20 years.
For example, the intersection of Okeechobee Boulevard and Military Trail would have 132,800 daily vehicle trips in 2035, according to MPO projections. Today, there are 100,232 daily trips through that intersection.
Forest Hill Boulevard and State Road 7 is the largest “at-grade” intersection in the county, with 31 total lanes (including turning lanes) approaching from all four directions. There are 94,177 daily trips through that intersection today, and the 2035 projections call for 105,000 trips.
“It needs to not be a do-nothing approach,” Uhren said after the meeting when asked about resistance to urban interchanges.
“But at the same time, when you’ve got bottlenecks for cars, there’s not an alternative. Unless you can convince people to get out of their cars, you cannot provide the capacity of an urban interchange in another fashion to move that many cars.”
Burdick hopes the MPO board will consider alternatives such as expanding the Palm Tran bus service or using advanced technology that improves traffic-signal systems.
“Expanding our roadways is not the answer,” she said after the meeting. “Our roads are pretty much built out. Now we are going to go up and over homes and businesses?” she said.
“There’s got to be other ways of moving people other than keeping them on expanded roadways between these interchanges.”