The intersection of Forest Hill Blvd. and State Road 80/Southern Blvd. will undergo major improvements under a plan presented by the Florida Department of Transportation to the Wellington Village Council late last month. The council approved a resolution supporting the project.
At the Sept. 27 meeting, Kevin Iannarone with Inwood Consulting Engineers said that the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization had asked FDOT in 2014 to evaluate the intersection for capacity improvements, and that a plan was developed to reduce the vehicle delay during peak hours from 96.6 seconds to 56.6 seconds.
“It’s a significant reduction in the delay motor vehicle drivers experience,” Iannarone said, explaining that the project is still in the final design phase with FDOT.
The improvements include adding a third westbound left-turn lane from SR 80/Southern onto Forest Hill Blvd. and modifying the existing light-controlled right-turn lanes to provide a free-flow right turn.
“We will have a correlating acceleration lane on State Road 80,” Iannarone said. “You will be able to turn right, accelerate and merge in with traffic. To accommodate all that, we’re going to have to widen the bridge over the C-51 Canal on both sides.”
Landscaping, lighting and traffic signals will also be replaced as a result of the modifications, he said.
The widening on Forest Hill Blvd. will require the removal of a wall and plantings in front of the Wellington entrance sign in the southwest quadrant of the intersection.
“What we are looking to do is essentially remove that vertical wall to the west to accommodate that roadway improvement,” Iannarone said. “We will not be impacting the actual feature itself, maybe some minor impacts in the landscaping that will be restored after construction is complete.”
FDOT asked the village to donate a temporary right-of-way easement on the property for construction of the improvements. The design phase will continue through the spring of 2019, with construction to begin in the summer of 2019. The project is funded for construction.
Councilman Michael Napoleone asked how long the construction phase will be, and Iannarone said it will be a year-and-a-half to two years due to the widening of the bridge.
“I understand it’s a big project, but that’s a long-term impact on a very highly trafficked area,” Napoleone said. “What’s going to be happening to try to mitigate the congestion that’s going to build up over that time period?”
Iannarone said that the main scope of the project will be to the outside of the intersection, so the lanes themselves will not be seriously affected.
“We’re in the preliminary stages of the design, but we can shut down the sidewalk on one side of the roadway and handle the outside widening with very minimal disruption to your existing lanes,” he said. “The goal is going to be to maintain all your existing lanes that you have today during construction.”
Mayor Anne Gerwig asked about the design and whether aesthetic improvements could be made.
“This is a major entrance to the village, which is why we’re having this conversation,” Gerwig said. “We had talked about trying to do something to make it look better.”
She pointed out that the Village of Royal Palm Beach was able to get aesthetic improvements at its intersection of Royal Palm Beach Blvd. and SR 80/Southern, east of Forest Hill Blvd.
“Is that something that you would entertain?” she asked. “I understand it would be at our expense as far as upgrading it.”
Iannarone said that there is potential for aesthetic improvements, but pointed out that the bridge is owned and maintained by Palm Beach County, which would have to agree to maintain those improvements.
“The funding would have to come from the private side,” he said. “The department wouldn’t fund that, so we would look to the county to fund that, being that it’s a county bridge. It’s a discussion that could be initiated with the county.”
Gerwig said she thought aesthetic improvements would be worth having a discussion with the county, and Iannarone said FDOT would initiate that discussion.
Vice Mayor John McGovern made a motion to approve the resolution supporting the intersection improvements, which carried 5-0.