By Jane Smith
After more than a decade of work, Federal Highway in Delray Beach is back to its roots as a thoroughfare with two lanes in each direction.
In the mid-1970s the road was widened to three lanes before the state Department of Transportation extended Interstate 95 from Fort Lauderdale north to West Palm Beach. But the plan always called for Federal Highway to be narrowed again, said former City Commissioner Gary Eliopoulus.
“The road closures took longer than anticipated,” said Eliopoulus, who sat on the commission from 2007 to 2011. “But in the end it will be the best thing that Delray ever did — slowing the cars down near Atlantic Avenue.”
This time, the roadway is more scenic.
The approximately $14.2 million project boasts benches, more landscaping dominated by palms, trash cans and pavers used to create wider sidewalks between Northeast Second and Southeast Second streets. It also will have a 5-foot-wide cyclist lane in each direction and on-street parking. Finishing touches will be made this month, said Randal Krejcarek, the city’s environmental services director.
Money for the project came from five sources, he said. Florida DOT paid more than $5 million, Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency paid $3.6 million, the city paid nearly $3 million, the federal share was about $2.2 million and the developer contribution was $178,734.
Project started back in 2002
The Federal Highway project had a long gestation period.
It began in 2002 when it was added to the city’s downtown master plan, Krejcarek said. The first study was done in 2004. Public meetings were held in 2005 and 2006. In 2008, the City Commission and state agreed to a “trial narrowing,” putting posts in one lane of Federal Highway the length of the project, between George Bush Boulevard and Southeast 10th Street. Traffic studies were done before and during the trial.
The studies showed significant decreases in crashes for an eight-block section of Federal Highway with Atlantic Avenue as the midway point, Krejcarek said. The number of crashes dropped by 48 percent, rear-end crashes were down by 39 percent and sideswipe crashes fell by 59 percent.
When the design contract was issued in 2009, Kimley-Horn and Associates was told to “go down to Atlantic Avenue and make it look like that,” Krejcarek said. The designers chose pavers for the sidewalks and palms as the main landscape element.
Initially they had hoped to have wider sidewalks with pavers and special streetlights between Northeast Fourth and Southeast Fourth streets, but federal dollars fell short of the city’s request. It received only $1.4 million, not the $5 million requested, forcing the city to scale back the project’s area of wider sidewalks to between Northeast Second and Southeast Second streets, Krejcarek said.
In the eight blocks north and south of that area, plans did not call for streetlights to be replaced and power lines buried, he said. Those two sections still have power poles on the sidewalk, even though Federal Highway was narrowed, a dedicated bike lane added and landscape islands created in that area, according to the plan.
The initial low bidder for the construction of the five-mile roadway (2.5 miles in each direction) dropped out after learning the city would not allow construction to take place during the night. The city then awarded the contract to Sealand Contractors Corp., the next lowest bidder.
Construction began in the spring of 2013 to limit the effects from the torn-up streets to just two seasons, Krejcarek said.
Al Costilo, who co-owns Big Al’s Steaks at the southwest corner of Southeast Fifth Street and Atlantic Avenue, may have suffered the most. His sidewalk was torn up for about a year and a half, he said. He will be granted a waiver from paying his café license fee for one year, the city manager said. That comes to about $950.
Even so, Costilo gushed about the newly renovated Federal Highway. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “It came out much better than I expected.”
Another merchant who is happy to see the construction end is Albert Richwagen. Business at his bike shop along North Federal Highway dropped by 30 percent, he told fellow Downtown Development Authority board members at the September meeting.
The four-year gap between the design and the construction of Federal Highway created some issues. The city’s code now calls for a 5-foot clear passage on sidewalks for pedestrians, wheelchair users and strollers. In some cases, the placement of the palms and street furniture, including benches, decreased that passageway.
But in certain areas, the passage can go down to 36 inches and still be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, said David Romano of R.J. Behar & Co. Inc., the engineering firm hired by the city to assist with managing the project.
At the May 20 City Commission meeting, City Manager Don Cooper said the project designers used a semi-permeable membrane at the base of the palm or tree that allowed counting an extra 6 inches because the material could support foot and wheelchair traffic.
He advised commissioners to complete the project and “then go into corrective mode after that, based on our financial ability and the difficulty of correcting the issue.”
Delray Beach needs design standards for infrastructure that also would cover street furniture, such as benches and garbage cans, to help brand the city, Commissioner Jordana Jarjura said. She hopes they can be created this year.
Some want shade trees
Using palms created a showy street, but they don’t provide enough shade for pedestrians, urban planners say.
“When are landscape architects going to realize that Florida is a hot state? Shade trees are important,” said Dan Burden, who spent 16 years as Florida DOT’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. He now consults on walkable communities throughout North America.
“The threat of hurricanes is often used as an argument for palms, but shade trees can survive if planted well,” he said. “They help filter vehicle exhaust, lower urban air temperatures and add value to adjacent businesses and homes.”
Fewer shade trees may have been used than might be desired today, Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein said. “But the design was completed and bid many years ago when priorities were different. There are also benefits in varying streetscape landscaping to avoid monotony.”
He sees the city’s multimillion-dollar investment in Federal Highway producing “dividends for decades as properties along this stretch of what was once a six-lane highway are improved.”
Walking should get priority, mayor says
Mayor Cary Glickstein wants Delray Beach to have “complete streets” that would give priority to pedestrians and alternate modes of transportation “so they can coexist safely with cars and not be an afterthought for whatever space is left over.”
When he appears on a Walkable Communities panel Oct. 15 in Fort Myers with noted urban planners Jeff Speck and Joe Minicozzi, the mayor plans to address those issues and the need for a diverse economy.
Delray Beach is “too reliant on trendy hospitality uses, which can change quickly,” he said. “We need to make it easier for folks to reconsider using their cars, but we also need to give them diverse reasons to want to be here — as a resident, tourist or business owner.”
How money was spent
81 Royal palms at $499.23 each. Total: $40,437.63
148 Cabbage palms at $211.29 each. Total: $31,270.92
25 Thatch palms at $357.18 each. Total: $8,929.50
27 Montgomery palms at $293.36 each. Total: $7,920.72
13 Foxtail palms at $444.68 each. Total: $5,780.84
5 Red leaf palms at $499.23 each. Total: $2,496.15
Total palms: 299
Total cost: $96,835.76
4 Silver buttonwoods at $334.54 each. Total: $1,338.16
41 Jatropha integerrimas at $156.46 each. Total: $6,414.86
19 Crape myrtles at $257.34 each. Total: $4,889.46
10 Live oaks at $1,317.56 each. Total: $13,175.60
Total shade trees: 74
INSET LEFT: BEFORE
Amount used: 14,536 tons
Paint used for striping
Solid 12-inch white stripe: 15,024 linear feet
Solid 24-inch white stripe: 3,858 linear feet
White skip traffic stripe: 1.33 gross miles
Painted guide skip stripes: 19,880 linear feet
Solid 6-inch yellow stripe: 8.026 net miles
Solid 8-inch yellow stripe: 950 linear feet
Amount: 10,632 square yards
Specially designed streetlights
Between NE Second and SE Second streets
Signal mast arms and signal lights
Number of mast arms: 9
Number of traffic signal lights: 22
Sources: City of Delray Beach and R. J. Behar, the engineering firm hired by the city to assist with managing the project