By Mary Hladky
With the Boca Raton Brightline station expected to open in December, the city soon will begin work to make the streets to and from the station and downtown more attractive and pedestrian and bicycle friendly.
Brightline originally wanted the city to build an elevated pedestrian bridge that train passengers would use to reach Mizner Park. But the estimated cost of that project was between $7 million and $12 million because the bridge would have to be enclosed and air-conditioned due to Florida’s climate. That prompted concerns about vagrants camping out in the bridge.
So the city scrapped that idea and opted to enhance Northwest First Avenue and Northwest and Northeast Second Street.
Even so, the beautification work along the four-block stretch will cost $3.3 million, more than double what was anticipated two years ago, because of the rising materials costs and supply chain issues.
Northwest First Avenue, immediately west of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, will be one southbound lane flanked by trees and foliage, with a wide paver path on the east side of the road that would be shared by pedestrians and bicyclists and a concrete sidewalk on the west side.
Walkers and cyclists would turn east on Northwest Second Street. After crossing Dixie Highway, where the road becomes Northeast Second Street, it will be two lanes and a turn lane with two wide shared pedestrian and cyclist lanes. Existing shade trees will be preserved and new trees added, as well as additional landscaping, lighting and a new signalized intersection at Northwest First Avenue and Northwest Second Street.
Brightline broke ground on the station in January and work has proceeded quickly.
The 38,000-square-foot station and adjacent 455-space parking garage will be located on city land just east of the Downtown Library.
The cost of the $46 million project is partly defrayed by a $16.3 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant. Brightline is paying $20 million of the station cost, while the city will spend $9.9 million on the garage.
Brightline halted passenger service in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, resuming operations in November.
Passengers are quickly returning. Ridership hit pre-pandemic levels in February. According to Brightline’s most recent financial report, the upscale passenger trains carried 107,069 passengers in March, compared to 91,903 passengers in March 2019.
The average ticket cost $21.38 in March, the highest to date as back-in-service promotions have phased out.