State Rep. Matt Willhite (D-District 86) and District 6 Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay will host a town hall meeting regarding the State Road 7 extension project at the Vista Center complex off Okeechobee Blvd. on Wednesday, Nov. 1.
Both Willhite and McKinlay said it is their duty to host a public forum such as this to receive public input and invite agencies and stakeholders to answer questions from the public regarding the road’s planned extension to Northlake Blvd.
The meeting is scheduled to run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Willhite said he expects to make introductions and then primarily be a listener in order to inform himself on public opinion and concerns for the project.
“This issue has been on the horizon for quite some time, and I just wanted to make sure that we had clear and accurate information on what it was,” Willhite said.
The long history of the project is supposed to come to a head early next year with construction beginning in March. The meeting will be conducted to inform all who attend.
“Part of our responsibilities is to make sure that our constituents are informed,” Willhite said. “So, it’s just another continuation of this, of doing that job, so we put it together before we go to session. I always like to hear things from people before we go to Tallahassee and start working on things and hear about their concerns.”
McKinlay hopes the meeting will be a forum to educate and clear the air on the project and what its impacts will be for different areas.
“I think that a lot of concerns [were raised] from the people in the City of West Palm Beach that somehow this is going to damage their water supply and the environment,” McKinlay said. “Our hopes are that by bringing together the permitting and the regulatory agencies that oversee these different components to this road project, that we will be able to dispel some of those concerns and put people at ease, recognizing that this is a much-needed, long-awaited project in the western communities.”
McKinlay agreed with Willhite that the goal of the meeting is for them to welcome the stakeholders and to listen.
“I don’t want to interject my opinion into this project, and I don’t think he does, either,” McKinlay said. “We’re going to let the regulatory agencies handle that.”
Many of the agencies are expected to be at the state level, such as the Florida Department of Transportation. However, the list for attending agencies at the Nov. 1 meeting is not set.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Jacksonville District) is one agency that won’t attend, McKinlay said.
“They have a standing policy that if there is litigation in play, that they don’t participate in meetings like this,” she said.
The Army Corps issued a permit for the extension project last July.
Royal Palm Beach Mayor Fred Pinto said he plans to attend the meeting, and he looks forward to the completion of the SR 7 project.
“It has to get done. This project initiative of having State Road 7 extend all the way up to Northlake — more now than ever, it provides a point of evacuation in the area, because the only way you can get north now is you have to go up Royal Palm Beach Blvd., go through The Acreage, go further west before you can get out up to Northlake, as opposed to a straight run up and down on State Road 7,” Pinto said.
He believes the updates to the road in the past have had positive impacts on his community and the surrounding areas, alleviating traffic that used to occur within Royal Palm Beach.
“That traffic now bypasses us and comes down State Road 7,” he said. “This will complete that initiative by pushing all the way up to Northlake.”
Pinto said the roadway extension is a necessary project, not only for his village, but for the surrounding areas, particularly with all of the new development that has been approved recently by the county.
“This gives a clear access point to people to get up to Northlake or coming down from Northlake. They want to head south or head east, without having to have traffic go through the middle of the village,” Pinto said. “It’s a very important access route for all the citizens in the area.”
Pinto is glad to see that a town hall meeting has been put together by Willhite and McKinlay.
“I’m glad they’re bringing it together and having this forum, because there has been a lot of press about this project, and, obviously, there is a lot of significant pushback from West Palm Beach,” Pinto said. “But every time people have talked to me about it, I’ve assured them that this project is going to go forward.”
Willhite wants the meeting to be as informative as possible, free of anything but the goal to educate and discuss the roadway project before the upcoming legislative session in Tallahassee.
“People elect us to represent them at the state level,” Willhite said. “So, we’re just going to have this town hall meeting. People are invited. If they want to come and ask questions, it’s impartial, non-biased. There is not a side to this; it’s an informational meeting.”
The county’s Vista Center complex is located at 2300 N. Jog Road.