Central Chamber Hears Plans For State Road 7 And Southern Blvd. Work

Dave Howard, chief executive officer of Brightline, and Nick Uhren, executive director of the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization, were the speakers at the Nov. 2 luncheon.

The Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce hosted an economic forum luncheon on mobility issues Thursday, Nov. 2, and the featured speakers were Nick Uhren, executive director of the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Dave Howard, chief executive officer of Brightline.

The primary focus of Uhren’s talk was road expansion, such as State Road 7’s planned expansion to Northlake Blvd., and road widening, such as a planned project along Southern Blvd./State Route 80. These projects are expected to alleviate the impact of heavy traffic on everyone who lives in the western communities.

The Palm Beach MPO is comprised of five county commissioners, 15 elected officials from 13 cities and one elected official from the Port of Palm Beach. The MPO allocates approximately $20 million in federal funds toward various transportation projects in Palm Beach County.

“We don’t operate anything. We don’t own anything. All we do is plan, prioritize and fund transportation projects,” Uhren explained. “All we do is allocate the dollars and services for transportation projects in Palm Beach County.”

The organization is rebranding itself to become the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency going forward, he added.

On Nov. 1, about 50 residents and officials attended a town-hall style meeting at Palm Beach County’s Vista Center complex to learn about the final plans for the completion of SR 7 to Northlake. After 20 years of planning, the missing road link finally seems to be coming to fruition, Uhren said.

Uhren noted that construction is scheduled to begin in 2018 on the four-lane road, stretching from 60th Street north to Northlake Blvd. The road will include separate bike lanes and pedestrian paths. Completion of the project will help get drivers to stop cutting through side roads in The Acreage, he said.

Another project that is garnering a lot of attention and discussion is the widening of Southern Blvd. The eight-lane — four lanes west of the Crestwood Blvd./Forest Hill Blvd. intersection — roadway has reached is maximum capacity to carry the traffic burden that it currently carries.

One of the designs that the Florida Department of Transportation is looking at is to have two different levels — one with four “express” higher-speed lanes and one with six “local” lower-speed lanes. The design would be similar to the section of Southern Blvd. where it intersects with Haverhill Road and Military Trail east of Florida’s Turnpike.

The date when construction will begin on that project is not as concrete as the SR 7 project, and he emphasized there’s a lot more going on than just these two projects.

“There are a lot of projects in the pipeline for your part of Palm Beach County over the next five years,” Uhren said. “We want [the business community’s] input on what projects to prioritize or what projects should be put on hold.”

The MPO collaborates with state and federal agencies, as well as the county, municipalities, the business community, homeowners’ associations and other resident groups to ensure that the public has ample input into what projects are prioritized, Uhren said.

He added that the MPO has four aggregates that guide it: safe, efficient, connected and multi-modal.

Uhren explained that in Palm Beach County, multi-modal takes the form of buses, bicycles and pedestrians. The Southern Blvd. project is exploring implementing a number of components that serve more than just motorized vehicles.

For buses, this means dedicated pull-offs where drivers can safely load and unload passengers. These stations would include shelters. There is also available technology to enable smart traffic signals — or Traffic Signal Priority — that would allow a bus to send a signal to the traffic lights that would either keep the signal green or speed up the transition from red back to green.

On that same project, there will be separate lanes for bicycles, but he said the state has yet to accept the necessity of having a physical barrier between bikes and motorized vehicles. Uhren said he hopes the state will change its mind on this matter.

The Southern Blvd. widening project will also have pedestrian paths that are separate from the bike lanes, but they will share crosswalks and bridges.

Learn more about the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization at www.palmbeachmpo.org.

Brightline, Florida’s fledgling high-speed rail service, is still working toward full operation of its privately funded train service that in its first phase is slated to run between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. It will then eventually extend up to Orlando.

Howard believes these four metropolitan areas are vastly underserved by the transportation sector, adding that Brightline will help to better serve regional travelers.

“There are 500 million individual trips to and from the four cities we will eventually serve every year. Those numbers are astounding,” Howard said.

Learn more about Brightline at www.gobrightline.com.