The Palm Beach County Commission gave preliminary approval Tuesday, Nov. 19 to a five-year road plan with more than $90 million being spent in 2020 and about $267 million over the next five years.
District 6 Commissioner Melissa McKinlay asked that special attention be given to plans to widen Northlake Blvd., reminding staff that the road is Acreage residents’ only east-west corridor, resulting in hours of gridlock when the busy roadway has an accident.
McKinlay said she was frustrated that construction on Seminole Pratt Whitney Blvd. from Orange Blvd. to Northlake Blvd. was shown to begin in 2020, but she had learned that construction would actually begin in 2021.
“You may not have all the roadway permitting done, but for the residents, it’s really misleading,” she said. “You plan around that, especially when you’re out there and trying to consider a commute to work. Your only route is Northlake, and if it’s going to be under construction for five years, it might impact where you buy a home. So, why are we listing it as 2020 when construction is not going to begin until fiscal year 2021?”
Roadway Production Director Omelio Fernandez explained that funding and awards for construction had been allocated for fiscal year 2020, but actual construction would not begin until 2021.
McKinlay also asked about construction plans for Northlake Blvd., which is divided into three parts, when it had been announced that construction would be all at once.
“It’s split out into three different projects over the next three years,” she said. “We needed that road yesterday.”
County Administrator Verdenia Baker agreed with McKinlay regarding the road’s urgency.
“I agree with you, we needed that road even before yesterday,” Baker said. “We were taking the county’s responsibility first, but when we spoke with the owners of Avenir, we then agreed that we would work together.”
Deputy County Engineer Tanya McConnell said the western portion of the project had been under consideration for a longer period of time than the rest of the project.
“It was always intended that that was to go first,” McConnell said. “I know there was a desire for us to combine the projects, but Avenir’s project started out behind ours. We have now incorporated it into ours, but to get them done together, we’d have to delay all the construction, and I think we wanted to see construction out there as soon as possible. This way, we get the western portion in place, and very shortly thereafter, the second portion will follow.”
McKinlay said that she was unhappy that as the area’s commissioner, she had not been notified of the delays.
“This is the only way in and out of The Acreage right now, unless they go all the way down to Southern Blvd. or take a part of Okeechobee Blvd. and crawl at 30 mph through Loxahatchee Groves,” she said. “For the northern part of The Acreage, that’s the only way they can get east and west, and it’s overburdened now.”
McConnell said the county has been working with Avenir to get the project done in a timely manner and address all the issues at one time.
Commissioners were also concerned that the funding drops incrementally over the five-year period.
County Engineer David Ricks said that the road plan is funded by impact fees, proportionate share money, gas taxes, sales tax and Florida Department of Transportation agreements.
“Every year at this time, we roll off the current year and add a new year, so we’re adding 2024 to the program,” Ricks said, explaining that the plan funds $90 million for 2020 and decreases proportionally to $38.1 million in 2024.”
He explained that the major change in terms of funding is that the gas reserve is $26 million and impact fees are $39 million, for a total of about $65 million in fiscal year 2020. In 2024, the anticipated gas tax funding drops to $5 million and anticipated impact fee collection is about $18 million, a difference of about $42 million.
“This is an ongoing process of looking at revenues and projections,” Ricks said. “We take a very conservative approach in terms of revenue projections.”
He said impact fees are assigned to five separate zones where money is collected, and projects are allocated within those zones. “We have to use those dollars within a six-year time frame based upon the statutory requirements,” Ricks said.
He explained that projects are identified using a thoroughfare identification map.
“We use that as a foundation to look at traffic projections and traffic needs in the out years,” he said. “Based upon that map, and looking at traffic projections, that’s how we program in the out years.”
He added that staff also looks forward as far as 2025 to plan for roadways.
“We are looking at over a billion dollars in projects outside the five-year window,” Ricks said. “Actually, this list of projects was submitted to the [Transportation Planning Agency] for inclusion in the long-range plan.”
He said in addition to the 380,000 workers commuting within the county, staff also accounts for almost 195,000 people who commute to the county from outside, and about 170,000 county residents who commute to work outside the county.
Projects for the western communities in the five-year plan include three-laning 2.4 miles of 60th Street North in The Acreage from west of 140th Avenue North to Avocado Blvd. and Avocado Blvd. to east of 120th Avenue North at a cost of $1.8 million in 2020, and five-laning 1.3 miles of Coconut Blvd. from south of 78th Place North to south of Northlake Blvd. at a cost of $1.5 million in 2021 and $5.1 million in 2023.
Northlake Blvd. projects include four-laning one mile from east of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road to east of Hall Blvd. in 2020 at a cost of $800,000, and 2.4 miles from east of Hall Blvd. to Coconut Blvd. at a cost of $3 million in 2020 and $5.2 million in 2023.
Royal Palm Beach Blvd. will be five-laned 1.1 miles from north of Persimmon Blvd. to north of the M Canal in 2021 at a cost of $950,000, and five-laned one mile from the M Canal to south of Orange Blvd. in 2020 at a cost of $6 million.
Royal Palm Beach, Orange and Coconut boulevards will be five-laned from south of 68th Street North to north of 77th Place North at a cost of $2 million in 2020, $400,000 in 2022 and $3 million in 2024.
Seminole Pratt Whitney Road will be widened from four to six lanes from Orange Blvd. to south of Northlake Blvd. at a cost of $600,000 in 2020. Intersection improvements will be made at Seminole Pratt Whitey Road and Northlake Blvd. in 2021 at a cost of $400,000.
Commissioner Robert Weinroth asked why the amount allotted decreased over the five-year period, from $90 million in 2020 to $60.8 million in 2021, $41.7 million in 2022, $36.2 million in 2023 and $38.1 million in 2024.
Baker said the large amount in 2020 was largely due to the rollover of unfinished projects in 2019.
Baker added that the commissioners may need to discuss additional ad valorem funding for roads in the face of decreasing gas tax money for roads.
“The majority of those dollars are going to Palm Tran,” Baker said.
Final reading and approval of the five-year road plan is set for Tuesday, Dec. 17.