Future of U.S. 1 in Tequesta: repaving or remodeling?

Skinnier is better, say proponents of a plan to shrink a 2-mile section of U.S. Route 1 to four lanes from six.

Slimming down the main roadway that goes through the 5,800-population village would be safer, improve business for local merchants and entice visitors and to walk and ride bicycles, say supporters of the plan to reduce lanes from County Line Road south to Beach Road. Reducing the speed limit to 35 mph from 45 mph is part of the plan.

“Drivers come whizzing down U.S. 1. They don’t even see us,” said Kevin Sealy, owner of Left Bank Arts, a picture frame shop in the Tequesta Shoppes on U.S. 1.

Smaller lanes also are being considered for Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach. Besides narrowing the eight driving lanes from 12 to 10 feet, the plan calls for reworking crossings, sprucing up landscaping and adding bicycle lanes separated from traffic by an 18-inch barrier.

Narrower lanes encourage motorists to drive more slowly, and slower speeds translate to fewer injuries in crashes, said Jeff Speck, a Washington, D.C., consultant who was paid $50,000 by West Palm Beach to do a traffic study.

Known as the “Complete Streets Program” by state transportation planners, redesigning streets to encourage walking, bicycling and other driving alternatives is a blossoming statewide movement in urban areas, said Chuck McGuinness, Florida Department of Transportation spokesman. Trolleys, roundabouts and curb extensions are also promoted.

Olive Avenue in West Palm Beach and Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach are examples of roads that were narrowed and sidewalks, medians and bicycle paths added to get people out of their vehicles. Jupiter plans to spend about $7 million starting later this year to build sidewalks, on-street parking, bicycle lanes and other improvements to State Road A1A from Beach Road north to U.S. 1 for the same purpose.

Not everybody is convinced Complete Streets will work on U.S. 1 in Tequesta.

Mike Lensa, owner of Gung Ho! gun shop on the roadway, doubts more customers will walk through his door if the road is narrowed and landscaped.

“It’ll take more than new trees and sidewalks to get people to start shopping around here,” he said on a recent afternoon, pointing to the empty sidewalks outside his store in the Village Shoppes.

Speck agrees.

Safety will increase and more bicycle riders will use U.S. 1 if lanes are reduced, Speck said. But pedestrian traffic won’t go up if the number of lanes go down, he said.

“The stores are pushed back from the road. Parking is in front of the stores. That road has no other job except to move as many vehicles as possible,” he said.

Proponents counter that the effort is worthwhile to boost business and improve safety.

About 24,000 vehicles daily travel down the 2-mile section. That’s much lower than the maximum of 32,000 for a four-lane roadway. The maximum for a six-lane roadway is about 48,000, according to state transportation figures.

“The road is wider than it needs to be by a significant margin,” said the county’s director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization Nick Uhren, who supports the plan.

U.S. 1 motorists coming from the south in Jupiter and from the north in Martin County leave two lanes and enter three lanes when they enter Tequesta. Drivers sometimes speed up when they enter the wider roadway, said Tequesta Police Chief Christopher Elg.

“Improving sight lines, bigger bicycle lanes and wider turn lanes would improve safety. Building shoulders for motorists to pull over would be a big improvement,” Elg said.

FDOT has approved $1.6 million to repave and restripe U.S. 1 in Tequesta in 2018. Supporters of reducing U.S. 1 lanes want to convince the state to use that $1.6 million to reduce lanes, build bicycle lanes, landscape, build wider medians, improve lighting, add signs and lengthen turn lanes.

“Our goal is to stay within that $1.6 million, but until we do the design, we won’t know the total cost,” said village Councilman Frank D’Ambra.

Both Tequesta village council and FDOT must approve the plan before construction could begin. Public hearings, including a one-day public design workshop, are required. No dates have been set for public meetings. Tequesta has approved $80,000 and the county $50,000 to design the plan.

“Right now, U.S. 1 defines Tequesta. We want Tequesta to define U.S. 1,” Mayor Abby Brennan said.

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