Palm Beach County Approves Mitigation Projects For SR 7 Extension

The Palm Beach County Commission recently approved a joint participation agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation for a mitigation project within several protected areas in association with the extension of State Road 7, which is expected to begin this summer.

The two-part project, which will be done in two simultaneous phases, will complete SR 7 from 60th Street North to Northlake Blvd. with four lanes, and expand the existing road from Okeechobee Blvd. to 60th Street from two lanes to four.

The agreement approved at the commission’s Dec. 19 meeting authorizes Palm Beach County Mayor Melissa McKinlay to request that FDOT convey surplus property to provide environmental mitigation for the Everglades snail kite resulting from impacts associated with the SR 7 extension.

The memorandum of agreement requires the county to provide mitigation and maintenance services in return for the FDOT to provide not more than $5,385,788 to be made in three payments in about three years.

The payments will reimburse the county for staff time, land acquisition and management costs for maintaining mitigation areas in the Loxahatchee Slough, Pond Cypress and Pine Glades natural areas, consistent with the management practices of the county’s natural areas program and in accordance with the state and federal permits for the SR 7 extension.

The county budget amendment of $2 million includes $1,550,000 for land management and $450,000 for land acquisition costs in fiscal year 2018 in the county’s environmental resources natural areas fund.

The memorandum of agreement and joint participation agreements provide the necessary funding to implement land acquisition and management activities, which will maintain an area of the Loxahatchee Slough and Pond Cypress natural areas in the vicinity of the existing SR 7 right-of-way alignment, as well as provide mitigation in the Pine Glades Natural Area for wetland impacts from the SR 7 extension. The mitigation and maintenance constitute an additional perpetual obligation for the county’s natural areas program.

The FDOT funding reimburses staff costs for exotic vegetation and animal control, prescribed fire regimens, vegetation monitoring and site security relative to the mitigation areas, in perpetuity. There are no matching requirements. All anticipated costs associated with the FDOT mitigation work will be the responsibility of FDOT.

The long-planned SR 7 project, which got underway in 2005, covers about 8.5 miles from Okeechobee Blvd. to Northlake Blvd. at a construction cost of about $60 million. It was delayed by objections and lawsuits from the City of West Palm Beach, which challenged the project on environmental grounds.

The route selected by FDOT after extensive public hearings runs along the west side of the city’s water catchment area and the east side of the city’s Ibis Golf & Country Club community.

Since 2008, FDOT completed a study to develop alternatives and evaluate each one for potential impacts in regard to social and environmental concerns. Public input played a role throughout the process.

The project will extend SR 7 to Northlake Blvd., where the current north-south travel network between Okeechobee and Northlake boulevards is limited. The only alternative routes now are Florida’s Turnpike four miles to the east and Seminole Pratt Whitney Road, located six miles to the west.

The project includes the widening of the existing county roadway from two to four lanes between Okeechobee Blvd. and 60th Street North, construction of a four-lane divided roadway between 60th Street and the east entrance of the Ibis Golf & Country Club, and the widening of the existing county roadway from two to four lanes between the east entrance of the Ibis Golf & Country Club and Northlake Blvd.

In addition, a roundabout is proposed for the intersections at 60th Street North and the entrance to the Ibis Golf & Country Club.

The contractors have not yet been selected, according to the FDOT web site. Completion of the project is planned for the fall of 2020.

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 existing SR 7 roadway must get off at Orange Blvd. or Persimmon Blvd. and complete their drive to Northlake Blvd. via local roads in The Acreage.