By Rich Pollack
It has taken more than 3½ years but it now appears Highland Beach will get pedestrian-activated signals at all of its crosswalks on State Road A1A.
“The day has finally come when we’ll be able to put in some type of crosswalk improvements,” said Town Manager Marshall Labadie.
In August the Town Commission authorized Mayor Doug Hillman to sign an almost $205,000 contract with Delray Beach-based Lux Solar for 16 solar-powered crosswalk lights on either side of the eight A1A crosswalks in town. The price also includes installation.
Money for the lights will come from the 1-cent discretionary sales surtax approved by Palm Beach County voters in 2016 and reserved specifically for infrastructure improvements.
The crosswalks, which Labadie says could be working within a few months, will each feature a diamond-shape crosswalk sign with a horizontal light bar below. When a button is pressed, the lights flash across the horizontal bar to alert motorists of a pedestrian in or about to enter the crosswalk.
Labadie said crosswalk lights have long been a priority for the town and were noted by commissioners when he inter-viewed for his job two years ago.
“It was a universally expressed concern,” he said.
One of the leading advocates for pedestrian-activated crosswalk lights was resident John Boden, who began lobbying for the improvements after nearly running into two women and several children who were crossing A1A at night and wearing dark clothes.
“I’m delighted that our town manager followed through and that we’re going to get the brightest lights possible,” Boden said. “The lights are not just for pedestrians. They’re also going to help drivers avoid hitting someone in the crosswalk.”
While the lights are a step in the right direction, the current agreement falls short of a more robust proposal town officials had previously considered.
Originally the town had hoped to include pedestrian-activated embedded lights into crosswalk improvements. Highland Beach sought an appropriation from the state to help fund the project, but funds in the state budget were cut by Gov. Ron DeSantis following the coronavirus outbreak.
The town also discovered that the cost for installing the embedded lights was higher than had been originally anticipated. Still, Highland Beach has not given up on additional crosswalk enhancements. Labadie said the town will wire the new pedestrian-activated signal to be compatible with embedded lights and is working to have those lights installed when the Florida Department of Transportation resurfaces A1A in the next three to four years.
Labadie said that establishing a rapport with state transportation officials was critical to making progress toward crosswalk improvements since the state has oversight on A1A and must approve any project affecting the roadway.
“We’ve had multiple conversations with multiple people at FDOT,” he said.
Getting the green light for improvements from the state was made easier because Highland Beach has agreed to foot the bill.
For his part, Boden said, he’s glad there’s progress on what he sees as a critical safety issue. “Everyone wanted crosswalks but it has taken 3½ years just to get it approved.” Ú