FDOT Engineer Reports All’s Well For SR 7 Extension

Florida Department of Transportation Project Engineer Beatriz Caicedo-Madison reported Wednesday that plans for the State Road 7 extension to Northlake Blvd. appear to remain secure.

Caicedo-Madison, speaking at a meeting of the Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors, recalled the public hearing March 21, 2012 at the South Florida Fairgrounds where residents of The Acreage and other interested communities overwhelmingly favored the project.

“It’s incredible,” Caicedo-Madison said. “Two years ago already. It was a tremendous event. Actually, an unusual event for this kind of project.”

She said about 800 people attended the event, divided between SR 7 pros and cons.

“I actually thought you were very well-behaved,” Caicedo-Madison said. “We received about 5,000 comments, cards that we had to review, read, and now we have to submit to the Federal Highway Administration just to let them know we had that public meeting.”

Since that meeting, FDOT has been coordinating the plan with other agencies, especially the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“One of the issues is that we are close to areas where the [endangered] snail kite is found,” she said, explaining that under the Environmental Protection Act, the Federal Highway Administration is required to receive a biological opinion from U.S. Fish & Wildlife for environmentally sensitive roads before it releases funding.

“That biological opinion states that the project will not affect the bird or any other species that is endangered,” Caicedo-Madison said. “This is why it’s taking this long.”

She said a lot of controversy has also surrounded the project, which runs along the west side of the West Palm Beach Water Catchment Area.

“We have been addressing the issues related to possible contamination of the waters,” she said, explaining that design features will contain any highway spills.

In order to get the biological opinion, FDOT had to develop a mitigation plan, and part of that included some right of way it owned for future road expansion and buffering.

“We are going to release that to be under preserve,” Caicedo-Madison said. “Also, north of Northlake, there is another portion of the range line that we are also going to release for conservation.”

She said releasing that land to conservation — originally required by the South Florida Water Management District as a buffer — also reduces the footprint of the highway.

During the public hearing, the City of West Palm Beach requested that FDOT look at possible corridors farther west, she said, adding that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also made that recommendation.

“The department decided to do some analysis, and we call it the Corridor Addendum,” Caicedo-Madison said.

“The analysis was done using 60th Street going west and then using 130th and 140th avenues to go north up to Northlake,” she said. “The conclusion was that these alternatives are not viable alternatives.”

Another change that was made after the public hearing was to reduce the impact to the Pond Cypress Preserve. “We used to have a curve that was going deeper into the Pond Cypress, and now we have been reducing that impact from 7 acres to less than 1 acre, so that is another tremendous plus for the project.”

ITID Supervisor Michelle Damone said the study of alternative corridors to the west created quite a stir in The Acreage. “I’ve been explaining that FDOT was being proactive rather than reactive, and FDOT had to prove that option is not viable,” Damone said.

Caicedo-Madison confirmed that the department’s opinion was that the current corridor was the viable one.


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