By Rich Pollack

    A plan to make improvements to Highland Beach’s 3-mile walking path — and spruce it up — may soon be coming off a shelf where it has sat for at least seven years.
    Town commissioners at a meeting Nov. 1 agreed to spend close to $30,000 to have a consulting firm come up with ideas and potential costs for improving the path — an asphalt ribbon that runs along the west side of State Road A1A for the town’s entire length.
    If the consultants and town officials can meet a tight schedule, the issue could be before voters in the March municipal elections.
    “This is one of our commission’s highest priorities,” interim Town Manager Valerie Oakes said.
    Plans to improve the walkway, which town maintenance crews often have to repair, have been in the town’s capital improvement plan for years but were shelved during the economic slowdown.
    In fact, the firm that will be making recommendations to the commission, Mathews Consulting, drafted a preliminary report for improvements in 2009.
    During budget hearings earlier this year, however, members of the current Town Commission decided to move forward with improvements.
    The town is asking the consultants to provide costs and design analysis for four options focused on walkway replacement materials including asphalt, concrete, decorative concrete at intersections, and concrete with decorative pavers at the intersections.
    The town is also interested in three possible options each for pathway lighting, street signposts as well as benches and trash cans. Town officials have said they would consider decorative lighting and street signs as one option to improve the walking path’s appeal.
    “We have to do this for the safety of the people who live here and while we’re doing that, let’s make it beautiful,” said Commissioner Rhoda Zelniker. “Highland Beach residents should have the safest and most beautiful walkway.”
    Public Works Director Ed Soper said the town puts a priority on maintaining the safety of the path and closely monitors conditions.
    Soper said replacing the asphalt with more durable concrete would reduce the need for constant maintenance and be more aesthetically pleasing.
    While there have been no discussions among commissioners about how the town would pay for the improvements, Finance Director Cale Curtis said the money could come out of town reserve funds, which were bolstered by $3.5 million several years ago by the sale of town property.
    The issue would still have to go to voters, however, since Highland Beach’s charter requires voter approval for any spending over $350,000 on a single project.
    “We will have to eventually replace the walking path,” Commissioner Lou Stern said. “Why not put in something that is convenient for people walking and for bicyclists that will also make our town a little more attractive?”

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