The final link of the State Road 7 extension from 60th Street North to Northlake Blvd. cleared a major hurdle recently with the Florida Department of Transportation receiving a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The SR 7 extension has long been regarded as a needed evacuation route in the event of a hurricane. Residents of The Acreage use Southern Blvd. east or west, or Northlake Blvd. east to the Beeline Highway to leave the area if necessary. Currently, drivers using the bypass must get off at Orange or Persimmon boulevards and complete their drive to Northlake Blvd. via local roads in The Acreage.
Indian Trail Improvement District Supervisor Ralph Bair, the longest-sitting supervisor on the board, recalled the decades-long fight to complete the road.
“State Road 7 was always an issue with the Indian Trail Improvement District for the fact that we were always the bypass from Okeechobee to Northlake,” Bair told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “Everybody came through the middle of The Acreage. It was always congested, especially when there was a storm brewing or something like that. Everybody was trying to get out and go north and get on the turnpike or I-95 to go north.”
The planned route puts the uncompleted leg east of the Ibis community and west of the West Palm Beach Water Catchment Area on the path projected by FDOT, which has had the easement since the 1940s.
The existing partially completed route runs west of the original FDOT range line after the county procured land alongside the eastern boundary of the Village of Royal Palm Beach and The Acreage and west of a preserve owned by the county, which built the existing two-lane road.
“The original agreement with Ibis was always to have it along the range line,” Bair said. “They were going to build the first three miles of it south of Northlake. They reneged. As soon as they joined the City of West Palm Beach, they acquired an ally.”
West Palm Beach claims it will continue to fight the project, although it has spent about $2 million over the past several years unsuccessfully trying to derail the approved final leg, which follows a path approved by the state in the 1940s.
West Palm Beach has argued that the route will compromise endangered wildlife habitat and risk pollution in the event of a chemical spill on the road, although it has been shown by experts that the route, with broad buffer areas, offers added protections for the water catchment area.
During the permitting process, the federal Environmental Protection Agency in its environmental assessment determined that the route poses no threat to the catchment area or wildlife.
Final design plans are anticipated to go out to bid in February with construction beginning in March 2018, according to FDOT representative Chuck McGinness.
The total cost estimate is about $64 million for the 60th Street to Northlake and the widening of the current two lanes to four from Okeechobee Blvd. to 60th Street.
FDOT has completed the Project Development & Environment (PD&E) study to extend SR 7 from Okeechobee Blvd. to Northlake Blvd. The purpose of the study was to develop several viable alternatives and evaluate each one for potential impacts with respect to social and environmental concerns. Public input played a vital role throughout the process.
The proposed improvements include the widening of the existing road built by the county from two to four lanes from Okeechobee Blvd. to 60th Street and construction of a new four-lane divided highway from 60th Street to Northlake Blvd. Bicycle lanes, sidewalks and roundabouts are included as part of the improvements.