The final public hearing regarding the extension of State Road 7 to Northlake Blvd. will take place Wednesday, March 21 at the South Florida Fairgrounds, and supporters of the long-planned project encourage as many people as possible to attend.
Hosted by the Florida Department of Transportation, the public hearing will begin with an open house at 5:30 p.m., a formal presentation at 6:30 p.m., followed by public comment.
“I can’t express enough to our community how very important this final meeting is, and I want to thank the Village of Royal Palm Beach for offering bus service for residents,” Indian Trail Improvement District President Michelle Damone said. “The Acreage Landowners’ Association, the Western Communities Council and the Palms West Chamber of Commerce were all well-organized in providing assistance and information, but we need to be there by 5:30, and the meeting will last at least two hours.”
Widely regarded in the western communities as a crucial missing link in the regional road system, the connection is opposed by some residents of the Ibis Golf & Country Club. The proposed route would run along the east side of Ibis, where the northernmost portion of the SR 7 connection to Northlake already exists.
Damone said the extension’s primary opponent, West Palm Mayor Jeri Muoio, a resident of Ibis, recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby against the project on environmental grounds.
“It’s easy for a mayor of West Palm Beach to fly to Washington and advocate against State Road 7, but she is not truthful with the facts and she uses language that the extension is going through, instead of around, the West Palm Beach Water Catchment Area,” Damone said. “That’s how she generates their concern, but when I have the opportunity to present the facts, it usually backfires on Mayor Muoio. I promise you all those agencies that listen to her will hear from me to present the facts to them on the State Road 7 extension.”
On a Wednesday bus tour of the western communities attended by six Palm Beach County commissioners, County Engineer George Webb narrated the portion of the tour pointing out the route that the completion of SR 7 is planned to take. The tour went south on the portion of the road east of Ibis called “North State Road 7.”
“If you notice the sign, it does say ‘North State Road 7,’” Webb said, pointing out the sign at the beginning of the road. “This is the eastern edge of Ibis. Look to your left.”
He also pointed out the area east of the road covered with overgrowth that has been designated as the SR 7 easement for decades.
Webb explained that the water catchment area is a football field’s width away.
“This area here is 300 feet wide,” Webb said. “What we have here is the opportunity for the state to determine where a road could be built. It could be built right where we’re driving today. It could be built in the middle of the 300 feet, and it could be built on the far side. If you build it on this side, you keep it as far away from the drinking-water supply as possible. If you put it on the other side, you keep it as far away as possible from the people in Ibis, so when the hearing comes up it will be interesting to see if the Ibis people say, ‘Well if you have to build it, where? Next to us or far away from us?’”
Webb said that under the original Ibis construction agreement, the road the bus was on was originally supposed to run the entire length of the community another 2 miles to the south, in anticipation of the construction of the SR 7 extension.
“It was determined not to build it then because it would just be another place for kids to drag race,” Webb said. “But the right-of-way exists all the way down to the M Canal,” he said.
Webb said FDOT has money available to build the missing link in 2014-15, but it has to get past the public hearing and permitting.
“The decision point is should this road be built in this corridor, or should it not be built, and that’s what’s going to occur after this public hearing happens,” he said.
The information will be sent to FDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, and a determination will be made whether to build.
Webb pointed out that West Palm Beach has pledged to challenge the permitting process every step of the way, including before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District.
The tour also traversed Coconut Blvd., which Webb said would have less traffic if the SR 7 extension is completed, with pass-through traffic using the new extension instead.
“One of the things you hear from The Acreage’s perspective is, ‘We are carrying the brunt of pass-through traffic between Okeechobee Blvd. and Northlake.’ Unfortunately, they have to use Coconut to do that,” Webb said.
Webb added that more letters lately have been written by Ibis residents indicating that they would like to have another way to Okeechobee Blvd. and points south.
The Village of Royal Palm Beach bus service pick-up/drop-off location will be in front of Village Hall, 1050 Royal Palm Beach Blvd., promptly at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21.
Anyone with questions about the bus trip should call the village clerk’s office at (561) 790-5100.
The meeting will be held at the South Florida Fairgrounds Expo Center (9067 Southern Blvd.). For more about the project, visit www.sr7extension.com.