RPB Will Continue Looking For Funding After Okeechobee Project Is Vetoed

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday, June 9 vetoed a $450,000 matching grant to improve a pedestrian crosswalk on Okeechobee Blvd. at La Mancha in Royal Palm Beach, which was part of about $6 million in requests from Palm Beach County that were deleted from the proposed $101 billion state budget.

Village Manager Ray Liggins said that Royal Palm Beach will seek other funding sources for the project, which will cost much more than the $450,000 included in the budget that passed the state legislature.

“We showed them that. It will be much more than the match because the project is actually much more expensive,” Liggins said, explaining that a project connecting La Mancha Blvd. to Okeechobee Blvd. was designed and permitted by the village about 15 years ago, then dropped after the State Road 7 extension was built, including a connection from Madrid Street to SR 7.

Bids for the La Mancha Blvd. to Okeechobee Blvd. connection came in at about $2.5 million for building the road from the Bilbao Street and La Mancha intersections to Okeechobee. “The reason we were doing that is we had a big backup at Ponce De Leon Street and Okeechobee, and the council wanted a solution to that problem,” Liggins said.

When the SR 7 extension was built, a connection was included from Madrid Street that would have relieved traffic congestion in the La Mancha neighborhood, but the Royal Palm Beach Village Council shot down the proposed connection, and the connection was blocked off.

“We never got permission to reconnect, so here we are,” Liggins said. “We are resurrecting the notion of reconnecting La Mancha, because in our minds, the Madrid connection doesn’t exist as an option.”

Despite the estimated cost of $2.5 million, Liggins said the La Mancha connection to Okeechobee Blvd. provides a public benefit and makes a safe crossing for the bike path.

“We put it back in the budget and started pursuing grants for it because we do still have a significant amount of cars coming out onto Okeechobee. As Okeechobee becomes more congested, it’s just going to become worse,” he said. “The other benefit is now that we have completed the full bike path that goes all the way down the power lines, and we’re getting ready to put lights on it, this gives us a safe crossing at that location.”

Liggins noted that the village has added a quarter-mile, 8-foot-wide sidewalk from the bike path on the north side of Okeechobee Blvd. to the Ponce de Leon intersection, and another 8-foot sidewalk on Sparrow Drive that goes back to the bike path.

“That’s for people who want to be safe and use a signalized intersection, but a lot of people don’t want to do that extra quarter mile,” he said, adding that the village will probably reapply for the state grant and is also in conversations with the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency.

If none of those options come to fruition, the village may consider fully funding the project without grant money.

“We think it’s a worthwhile project,” Liggins said. “It’s not in the budget until 2023 anyway. We always start pursuing funding early on. We’ll continue to think about the best way to do it.”

There were 12 total Palm Beach County projects vetoed, including $3 million for a stormwater runoff project in Lake Clarke Shores, $3 million for the Central Palm Beach County Infrastructure Project and $80,000 with matching funds to tutor children whose learning dropped behind during the pandemic.