Hmara: Vavrus Plan Creates Impetus For SR 7 Extension

The recent announcement of plans to develop the Vavrus Ranch property between Northlake Blvd. and the Beeline Highway has heightened interest in completing the State Road 7 extension, according to Royal Palm Beach Councilman Jeff Hmara (shown above).

The City of West Palm Beach has been actively opposing the connection of the existing State Road 7 extension to Northlake Blvd. via its current planned right-of-way on the original range line easement, which runs along the east side of the Ibis Golf & Country Club development. Ibis is the home community of West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio.

During council member reports during the July 2 meeting of the Royal Palm Beach Village Council, Hmara said he had participated in meetings recently with the Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce governmental affairs and economic development committees, where there was much discussion about development plans for the 4,753-acre Vavrus property in Palm Beach Gardens, which Landstar Development Group of Coral Gables paid $20 million for in October.

“It’s an Abacoa-type community that is going to be even twice as large as Abacoa,” Hmara said. “The significance of that to us might very well have to do with the SR 7 extension, because if you look at the roadway system out there, it’s pretty limited.”

He pointed out that the only two existing main roads in the area are Northlake Blvd. and the Beeline Highway. “There appears to be some justification that adding that kind of development to that area might very well help us out in continuing with the SR 7 extension and moving forward with that,” Hmara said.

The Florida Department of Transportation has announced plans to continue with the extension after more than 1,000 residents attended the final public FDOT hearing in March 2012 on the completion of SR 7 to Northlake Blvd., with advocates outnumbering opponents about two to one.

At that meeting, FDOT officials explained that the nearest north/west connections are Florida’s Turnpike to the east and Seminole Pratt Whitney Road to the west, and that the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization and other transportation agencies have identified completing SR7 as a high priority.

The project proposes to widen the SR 7 extension from two to four lanes from Okeechobee Blvd. to 60th Street North, and construct a new four-lane divided highway from 60th Street North to Northlake Blvd.. The estimated cost for the project is about $70 million for construction and about $16.5 million for mitigation. The project is fully financed, according to FDOT officials.

West Palm Beach, however, continues to lobby against the road in Tallahassee with the state government and in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce CEO Jaene Miranda.

Royal Palm Beach Councilman Richard Valuntas, who is the village’s liaison to the MPO, said funding was discussed at the last meeting, and West Palm Beach’s two members voted against it.

Valuntas said about $1 million would be spent in 2014 for engineering and right-of-way acquisition.

“I think it is 2017 where some of the substantial work is set to be done,” he said. “So it’s still several years off, and from what I understand, West Palm wants to cry to Congress and try to lobby them to throw roadblocks on this.”

Meanwhile, the Palm Beach County Commission last month forged ahead on its portion of the SR 7 extension, approving the purchase of 24 parcels of land on 60th Street North along the M Canal in The Acreage to connect Persimmon Blvd. to Orange Blvd., and then Royal Palm Beach Blvd.

The link will enable SR 7 pass-through traffic to make the connection on the three-lane 60th Street North link, rather than Persimmon and Orange Grove boulevards, which were intended ultimately to serve primarily local Acreage traffic.

The project includes replacing the Royal Palm Beach Blvd. bridge over the M Canal and reconstructing the intersection with 60th Street North to improve the line of vision for drivers entering Royal Palm Beach Blvd. from 60th Street. A traffic signal will also be installed at the intersection.