By Rich Pollack
In what could be seen as a well-crafted end run around the state’s transportation agency, the town is going straight to the Florida Legislature in hopes of getting additional funding for projects along State Road A1A.
Highland Beach officials have enlisted the aid of state Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, who is working on two bills that would send close to $1 million to the town if approved.
House Bill 2185 would provide about $200,000 for crosswalk lights, while House Bill 2159 would provide about $750,000 for drainage relief at 53 sites along A1A in the town.
State Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Boca Raton, has been working on Senate versions of the bills, according to town officials.
Town Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman says that direct appropriations from the Legislature are not uncommon for larger municipalities but that the current requests are the first for Highland Beach.
Lighted crosswalks have long been a priority for Highland Beach residents and commissioners, and the town is making progress on plans to install embedded lights at several crosswalk locations.
Engineering studies have been done and plans are currently before the state Department of Transportation for approval, but agency officials have told Highland Beach that they are not willing to pay for lighted crosswalks.
The town estimated that about $400,000 would be needed for the entire project, but only has about half that amount is budgeted.
“We have plans for work that is greater than our budget permits,” Gossett-Seidman said. “We could certainly use more funding to do a more complete project.”
The fact that the town already has a plan for the crosswalks and is willing to put in the same amount it is requesting could be a plus, Gossett-Seidman said.
In its efforts to make crosswalks safer, Highland Beach earlier this year unveiled crosswalk flags at a test location in the south end of town. Those flags have received a positive reaction from residents, and now several other communities are asking for flags.
Town Manager Marshall Labadie said Highland Beach is working out the logistics and hopes to have flags available at other crosswalks in the near future.
Drainage along A1A has also been an issue in Highland Beach. Town officials had hoped that the Department of Transportation would cover the cost of improvements at all 53 sites identified in a study funded by the state.
That is no longer the case, Labadie said, with transportation officials saying they will fund some drainage issues during a major A1A resurfacing project in two or three years.
“They’re saying they’ll do some as necessitated by the road project but not all of them,” Labadie said.
The town is hoping the Legislature will step in to fill the funding gap so navigating the highway during or after storms is safer.
Gossett-Seidman believes the town’s prospects of receiving a direct appropriation from the Legislature are good, considering the projects are on a state road that benefits motorists and bicyclists from other communities as well as Highland Beach residents.
“I’ve been told we have a very good chance for funding because we have plans on the desk and we have partial funding,” she said