By Rich Pollack
Questions from Highland Beach residents about the traffic impacts of an impending State Road A1A resurfacing project — as well as the need for bike lanes and the effectiveness of simultaneous drainage work — were fielded by a state engineer who assured residents their concerns were being heard.
During a meeting May 2, about two dozen residents listened as Florida Department of Transportation project engineer Brad Salisbury offered details about the $8.8 million resurfacing, restoration and rehabilitation, or 3R, project along 3.3 miles of A1A that runs through Highland Beach and includes a small slice of Delray Beach.
The project, which is scheduled to begin a year from now, is expected to last 18 months and will include the resurfacing of the highway as well as installation of 5-foot bike lanes to replace a not-always well-kept shoulder on either side of the highway.
Another key part of the project is drainage, consisting largely of swale improvement on both sides of the major thoroughfare through town.
The meeting, which came at the request of residents, marked the third time Salisbury had come to Highland Beach to offer a public presentation and field questions from residents worried about the unavoidable disruption that will come from the once-every-20-years project.
Salisbury explained that many of the concerns voiced by residents at previous meetings were addressed — including reducing the number of trees that need to be removed to just seven.
Town commissioners, who hosted the meeting, praised Salisbury and town staff for working together to address concerns.
“We’re never going to satisfy everyone’s issues and complaints, but I think you made a valiant effort to try and deal with everything,” Commissioner Evalyn David told Salisbury.
Throughout his presentation and discussion, the engineer assured residents that many of their concerns and suggestions would be investigated.
Once the project begins, people using A1A will encounter single-lane road closures, which will mean traffic delays. Salisbury said that the closures would be limited to 1,000 feet during the day and 2,500 feet at night.
One resident, who pointed out that traffic on A1A can be a nightmare during the season — even without construction — wondered if the road could be open to local traffic only.
Salisbury explained that closing the road to nonresidents wasn’t workable, largely because it is a state road and must be open to all. He did say that the state would put up signs on the west side of both the Linton Boulevard and Spanish River Boulevard bridges and at the town’s north and south ends, designed to shift traffic away from A1A by letting motorists know to expect construction-related delays.
He also said he would meet with FDOT construction managers to look at other ways to minimize traffic disruption. He pointed out that while frequent lane closures will occur, at other times work on the swales will not require stopping motorists.
“It won’t be all day, every day,” Salisbury said.
The addition of bike lanes was also a major topic of discussion, with some questioning why the project needed to include bike lanes and some wondering if they could be made safer by including a barrier between the lanes of traffic and bicyclists.
Salisbury said that bike lanes are required by state law on major road improvement projects except when they impede the flow of traffic. He said bike lanes will be included in upcoming 3R projects in Delray Beach and Boca Raton as well.
Because Highland Beach has a large number of driveways on A1A and because they could provide hazards for bicyclists, the idea of barriers including flexible poles was rejected.
Salisbury said, however, that he would bring up this issue for discussion with others from the FDOT to see whether acceptable alternatives exist.
The drainage portion of the project also drew a lot of questions, with Committee to Save Highland Beach leader Jack Halpern wondering if ponding issues on the road could be managed by requiring homeowners on the east side of the highway to control runoff from their properties.
Halpern, who writes a blog for the political action committee, has previously questioned whether the drainage portions of the project and the bike lanes were needed, saying that without them the timeline could be shortened and disruptions reduced.
Salisbury said that many of the suggestions he heard this month will be discussed and that FDOT officials will be back for another public meeting with contractors prior to the start of construction.