By Rich Pollack
After years of discussions, studies and lobbying of state officials, Highland Beach is taking a first step toward getting lighted crosswalks on State Road A1A. And it’s being done with the apparent blessing of the Florida Department of Transportation.
During a meeting April 2, commissioners gave Town Manager Marshall Labadie the green light to have a contracted engineering firm begin designing a crosswalk lighting project in collaboration with FDOT staff.
Labadie said the improvements the town hopes to see in the plans include pedestrian-activated, flush-mounted LED crosswalk lights as well as solar-powered, pedestrian-activated flashing lights and minor crosswalk landing improvements.
If the project can be completed as Labadie envisions, pedestrians hoping to cross State Road A1A could push a button and activate a pole-mounted light. At the same time, lights embedded in the crosswalk would be activated to further alert motorists of a pedestrian either entering the crosswalk or already in it.
“With pedestrian safety being a paramount concern for the community for many years, the goal is to make improvements to the existing eight crosswalks in the town,” Labadie said in a memo to commissioners.
Because A1A is a state road, any improvements the town makes must get FDOT approval.
Labadie, who met with state officials late last month, said that does not appear to be a problem as long as Highland Beach pays for the improvements.
Determining estimates for the cost of the project — as well as designing it and creating plans — are part of the responsibility of the civil engineering firm Keith & Schnars.
The firm will be paid not more than about $47,000 for the work, which must be completed within 180 calendar days from the date of the town’s approval.
Labadie said FDOT has standards for what can be used on state roads to enhance safety based on the volume of traffic and, in this case, the number of pedestrians using crosswalks.
Because the crosswalks in Highland Beach don’t meet those standards, FDOT is reluctant to foot the bill. FDOT officials, however, are OK with the town’s paying for the job.
“They will allow us to go farther, but it’s on our dime,” Labadie said.
The issuing of a work order to the engineers and the expected approval from FDOT are good news for resident John Boden, who has been pushing for lighted crosswalks for years.
In the past, FDOT hasn’t seen the need for lighted crosswalks. That has changed, according to Boden, due in large part to Labadie’s reaching out to FDOT and his building of a working relationship with its regional leaders.
“I’m delighted that the most-qualified person in the town has taken over moving the crosswalk lighting project to completion,” Boden said. “Nothing happened for two and a half years until Marshall got involved and he was able to get effective communication and cooperation with DOT.”
Labadie cautioned that while the project is moving ahead, certain variables could affect the final outcome. One of those variables will be costs that could be incurred in removing and reinstalling embedded road lights when the state repaves A1A in three to five years.
Another issue could be the need to put funding for the project in front of voters if the estimated cost exceeds the town’s $350,000 spending cap before a referendum is required.
Labadie thinks it is in the best interest of residents to light the crosswalks, even if the money has to come from the town’s budget.
“Taking these steps to protect our residents, even on our dime, is warranted,” he said.