Our Town with William Kelly: Palm Beach officials, residents oppose widening State Road A1A in South End

William Kelly  |  Our Town  |  June 8, 2022

Town officials and residents have told state transportation officials they’re against a proposal to widen a two-mile stretch of State Road A1A in the South End.

The $3.5 million proposal calls for repaving the road between Lake Avenue and Ibis Way, just south of Phipps Ocean Park. The two traffic lanes would each remain at a width of 11 feet, but the paved shoulders would be widened to five feet, instead of the current three feet.

The asphalt pedestrian/bicycling path on the west side of A1A would be repaved and its width doubled from five to 10 feet, according to the proposal. But that would reduce, to as little as three feet, the width of a grass median that divides the road from the recreation path, town officials say.

The median varies in width but is currently seven feet wide at its most narrow point, according to the town. Reducing its width by several feet would bring A1A drivers significantly closer to the pedestrians and bicyclists on the path, which is a safety concern, Town Manager Kirk Blouin has said.

Town Councilman Lew Crampton, who lives in the South End, told transportation officials earlier this month that the Town Council, Mayor Danielle Moore, and residents are opposed to widening the road for several reasons.

“We don’t want to lose the green space that we have – it is precious to us,” Crampton told Florida Department of Transportation officials at a June 2 public meeting at the Tideline Ocean Resort & Spa. “Don’t widen the road. We love it just the way it is.”

Crampton said the widened road would also attract more recreational bicyclists, something that residents don’t want. Many are already frustrated with the large groups of cyclists that travel on the scenic two-lane road, especially on weekends.

The project also would result in the loss of lighting, signage, irrigation, landscaping and other property that the residential buildings have installed close the road over the years, Crampton said.

Crampton read from a May 31 letter that Moore sent to the DOT notifying it of the town’s concerns. The Town Council on May 10 unanimously voted to recommend that the DOT not widen the road. The council did not oppose a modest widening of the recreation path but said a 10-foot-wide path would be too wide.

“All residents that spoke during public comment [at the council meeting] were opposed to any widening” of A1A, Moore wrote.

The DOT hosted the June 2 meeting to gather public opinion on the proposal. About 50 people attended or participated virtually, including Crampton, council members Julie Araskog and Ted Cooney, Public Works Director Paul Brazil and Senior Project Engineer Jason Debrincat.

Araskog told the DOT officials she was opposed to the widening of the road for the same reasons stated by Crampton. “It would have a deleterious effect on the town of Palm Beach,” she said.

Ronald Matzner, secretary of the board of directors for the Citizens’ Association of Palm Beach, said widening a two-mile segment of the recreation path, while leaving it as is to the north and south, will create a dangerous situation.

“You’ll wind up with [bicycle] riders ignoring the single-file rule, riding two or three abreast, then getting to the most dangerous curve in Palm Beach – Sloan’s Curve – where suddenly it’s going to narrow,” Matzner said. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Ibis Isle resident Lawrence Kaplan said he walks on the recreation path almost daily. He said residents don’t want to lose the green space in the A1A corridor. “This area already has significant blacktop and roads,” he said. “Preserving the greenery is very important.”

Kaplan said the path works well as it is. “Widening it doesn’t really solve anything,” he said. “If anything, it only invites trouble.”

The project is still early in the design phase and no final decisions have been made, DOT officials said.
Work would start in the fall of 2024 with completion scheduled for late 2025, they said.

The proposal calls for milling and resurfacing A1A and the recreation path. Pedestrian curb ramps would be upgraded to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Drainage, signs and pavement markings would be improved.

Lighting and pedestrian signals would be upgraded at Lake Avenue and at the mid-block crossing of the Par 3 Golf Course.

Several residents said they are in favor of the DOT taking steps to make the golf course crossing safer. In June 2021, an elderly man died and another person was injured when the golf cart they were riding in was struck by a vehicle at or near the Par 3 crossing.

The tone of the meeting was cordial, with town officials and several residents thanking the DOT for taking time to listen to their views.

Billy Canedo, spokesman for the DOT’s District 4, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, said Tuesday the purpose of the June 2 meeting was to gather opinions and answer questions. The DOT’s goal is to meet the desires of the community while upgrading the road to current design standards, he said.

“This meeting helps us a lot,” Canedo said. “We received robust input which will be analyzed and considered.”

An earlier version of the proposal also called for widening the two A1A traffic lanes within the project area by a foot each, to 12 feet. But that idea has been dropped, according to Vandana Nagole, project manager with the DOT.

 

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