By Rich Pollack
Highland Beach’s aging 3-mile walking path could become safer, more attractive and even more durable if town commissioners — and then voters — approve a recommendation from an ad hoc committee of residents.
“Our goal is to have a walkway that will last for many years, that is safe, and that will be aesthetically appealing without great cost to the taxpayers of Highland Beach,” said Mayor Carl Feldman, who chairs the committee.
Later this month Feldman and other committee members are likely to bring a proposal for $1.5 million to $1.7 million of improvements to the town’s popular walking path on the west side of State Road A1A.
A large portion of the budget would go toward tearing up the existing asphalt sidewalk and replacing it with decorative aggregate concrete embedded with crushed oyster shell.
“It’s more of a premium, but this committee decided it wanted something special — and it will be,” Feldman said.
The proposal likely will include creating signage and landscaping at the north and south ends of town, as well as improvements to some swale areas to eliminate dangerous drop-offs from the sidewalk.
The proposal also includes placing lighted pedestrian crosswalk signs at all eight of the town’s crosswalks. The Florida Department of Transportation will need to approve the plan for the entire project.
Feldman is proposing the town use an estimated $200,000 a year it will receive from the recently approved countywide 1-cent sales tax increase to cover the cost of the project.
The town would use money in reserves to pay for the project and then use the money from the sales tax to replenish the reserve fund. “The most important thing is that there is little if any burden to the taxpayers in Highland Beach,” he said.
Commissioners have been discussing improvements to the 5-foot-wide walking path for years, after the town has continually patched cracks and made other temporary repairs.
“We have to do something because there is so much deterioration in the asphalt,” Feldman said. “It’s not a safety issue yet, but it could become one.”
Feldman said the streetscape committee will meet again this month before bringing a final proposal to town commissioners. If approved, the proposal would then be put before voters in March, since the town requires voter approval for spending above $350,000.
If approved by voters, work on the project could begin as early as next summer.
Should the proposal come before voters, town leaders would hold a series of informational meetings prior to the referendum.
“We want to keep the public involved so they know what they’ll be getting,” Feldman said.