By Mary Hladky
Should Elon Musk’s The Boring Co. dig a tunnel to connect the city’s Brightline station to Mizner Park?
Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer has raised that possibility and is inviting the company to make a presentation to the City Council.
Thinking even bigger, he also suggested building a second tunnel that would connect to the Town Center mall, with stops along the way.
But that is a “very bold and expensive idea,” he told council members at their May 12-13 goal-setting session. A 1,000-foot tunnel to Mizner Park would be “more modest.”
Even at that, he has reservations and isn’t sure it’s a good idea.
“I have a lot of hesitancy. I don’t know if the public will feel as eager about a tunnel,” Singer said. “It is an idea to put on the table. I am not championing it as a must.”
Singer put forth his idea as South Florida engages in a bit of Elon Musk mania.
Miami Mayor Frank Suarez envisions a Boring Co. Brickell Avenue tunnel. That idea has since expanded to a possible transportation system connecting commuters from Brickell to Little Haiti, with stops in between.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis is talking to the company about tunnels as an alternative to a bridge for a commuter rail that would cross the New River. That idea has expanded as well to another tunnel from downtown to the beach, also with stops.
The reason for the interest is straightforward: Musk’s tunnels are relatively cheap. The two Fort Lauderdale New River tunnels would cost about $45 million. A bridge would be $445 million, the Sun-Sentinel has reported. An earlier proposal for a non-Musk tunnel was $3.3 billion.
But would it be cost effective for Boca Raton? Boring officials estimated the tunnel to Mizner Park would cost $10 million to $15 million, Singer said.
The city had considered an elevated pedestrian bridge to get Brightline riders safely across the FEC tracks and Dixie Highway into downtown. That project would have cost $7 million to $12 million, and city officials scrapped it. They now are finalizing much cheaper plans for an improved and safer walkway from the station to downtown.
Singer’s council colleagues didn’t rush to embrace the tunnel, but they were willing to learn more.
Council member Monica Mayotte said it is a “cool idea” worth investigating. Council member Yvette Drucker said she would like more information.
Deputy City Manager George Brown was less receptive. A city analysis of such a project “will be a nightmare,” he said. He immediately reworded his comment, calling it a “very difficult process.”
Another topic at goal-setting was improving the safety and appearance of Palmetto Park Road.
Beachside neighborhood residents and the city’s Planning and Zoning Board have lobbied the council to make the improvements. Those include traffic-calming devices, bicycle lanes, shade trees and crosswalks, and better walkability.
Council members agreed this should be a top priority but differed on how to get the job done.
Deputy Mayor Andrea O’Rourke forcefully advocated for the hiring of a consultant to do a comprehensive study on all the streets in the downtown to determine how to better accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.
Mayotte agreed that a consultant should be hired, but her emphasis was reducing downtown traffic by making it easier for people to get around without needing to drive.
Council member Andy Thomson, Drucker and Singer said the most pressing need is to make safety improvements on Palmetto Park Road that Beachside residents are advocating east of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Some of those changes could be made easily without the need for a major study, they said.
But since that stretch of the roadway is controlled by the county, no changes could be made without its approval.
“For me, the priority is to address the things we can do quickly,” Thomson said. That includes adding crosswalks and eliminating a few parking spaces at the intersection of Palmetto and A1A so that drivers have a clear view, he said.
O’Rourke and Mayotte said some quick fixes could be made without scuttling comprehensive planning.
New FPL light poles on the south side of Palmetto just west of A1A are a problem because they cut into the sidewalk, leaving less room for pedestrians. City Manager Leif Ahnell said putting the power lines underground would cost about $1.3 million. O’Rourke said it would be much less, but Municipal Services Director Zachary Bihr backed up Ahnell.
Singer raised the issue of fairness. If the city paid for undergrounding in Beachside, it would be unfair to other neighborhoods that want this done, he said.
“This is not about favoring a neighborhood,” O’Rourke said.
Mayotte agreed, terming it a “neighborhood safety issue.”
When council members rank their project priorities for the coming year in June, they will have a chance to make clear whether a majority favors a comprehensive plan for the downtown or a smaller project from the Intracoastal to A1A.