By Rich Pollack
It’s official — Highland Beach residents will have a chance in March to give town leaders the green light to spend as much as $2.1 million to replace a 3-mile-long walking path and improve surrounding areas.
Details of what that $2.1 million would pay for, however, are still not final since the scope of the plan needs to be fine-tuned and the overall project would require Florida Department of Transportation approval.
“The referendum in March is just to approve the money,” said Mayor Carl Feldman. “Once that happens, we’ll have public meetings to determine the specifics of what will be in the project.”
Following three months of discussion, the town’s Ad Hoc Citizens Streetscape Committee recommended a conceptual plan, which includes spending close to $1 million to replace the aging asphalt sidewalk on the west side of State Road A1A with a 5-foot-wide, decorative-concrete walking path.
The committee also recommended replacing gateway entrance signs on the north and south ends of town, and adding new signage, lighting and about $350,000 worth of landscaping. In addition, the recommendation includes the installation of four, 12-foot decorative posts for street signs that would include the town’s logo.
In its report to the commission, the committee suggested the town spend $109,300 as well on pedestrian-activated flashing crosswalk signs that would be installed at each of eight crosswalks along State Road A1A.
During an Oct. 3 commission meeting, however, commissioners agreed to pull the solar-powered crosswalk lighting measure from the streetscape project and instead set the wheels in motion to get town staff working on it sooner.
The decision was made to have the town attorney draft a resolution allowing the staff to expend funds for a crosswalk lighting project pending approval by FDOT.
Commissioners approved — via a 4-1 vote with Commissioner George Kelvin dissenting — after more than half a dozen residents spoke out in favor of doing something as soon as possible to improve safety at crosswalks.
Residents cited several near misses and said motorists often fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.
“This is an accident waiting to happen,” said resident Marilyn Morgan. “We need solar powered lighting.”
Also speaking out in favor of getting the lights in places as quickly as possible were Commissioners Elyse Riesa and Rhoda Zelniker.
“It’s time to get the crosswalk lighting done,” Zelniker said.
Once the commission approves a resolution expending funds for the project, town staff would begin determining costs for the flashing yellow pedestrian-activated lights at crosswalks.
The resolution, if approved, would also make it possible for staff to begin collecting bids for the project.
Even though the town is willing to foot the cost of putting up the crosswalk lights, which would be on either side of A1A, Feldman warned there’s no guarantee they will be put up quickly.
Approval for those lights would have to come from FDOT, which has oversight of any improvements on state rights of way. The existing 3-mile-long sidewalk/walking path is in that right of way as are all of the other improvements in the streetscape plan.
“This is not going to be a cakewalk,” Feldman said. “We can fight but the FDOT has the final say.”
Earlier this year, the state hired a consultant to conduct a road safety audit along State Road A1A in Highland Beach to determine if lighted signs were warranted. Following the audit, FDOT officials agreed to implement signs with flashing yellow lights at one location at the south end of town on a trial basis.
That pilot project, which will measure pedestrian and motorist compliance before and after installation, is expected to begin in January.
With the crosswalk lighting issue pulled from the streetscape proposal, commissioners were able to come up with language for the referendum that will be presented to voters in March.
In the end, commissioners voted to include language in the referendum asking residents to allow the town to spend up to $2.1 million to fund streetscape improvements “consisting of constructing a new walk path, upgraded signage, landscaping, lighting and other similar accessories.”
Highland Beach’s charter requires a referendum, or voter approval, to spend more than $350,000 on a single project. Because the cost of the crosswalk lighting project is expected to fall below the cap, the issue would not need to go before voters.
In other news, Highland Beach town officials are lending their support to a proposal by Zelniker to create an interfaith prayer service in conjunction with St. Lucy Catholic Church for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting as well as those impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
“This is an opportunity for our town to come together and remember those who died, are injured and their families,” Zelniker said. “It’s a chance to renew our bonds as Americans and stand together.”
Town officials said they will communicate details of the service once they determine a time and date.