This coming year is set to bring a slew of changes to how people get around Palm Beach County.
From the launch of the new Brightline high-speed rail service, to expected construction on Interstate 95, to more details on plans for Florida’s Turnpike, here’s a look at what you can expect in transportation trends in the county for 2017.
The first phase of All Aboard Florida’s passenger-rail service is slated to launch in 2017. In the past year, crews have made progress on construction of the Brightline stations in downtown West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Train car manufacturer Siemens also delivered the first train set to Brightline’s maintenance facility just north of West Palm.
This service could be a game-changer for jobseekers looking for work in one of the three station-holding cities, but who don’t necessarily want to live there. The relatively short commute on Brightline could make working in downtown Miami and living in downtown West Palm Beach seem a lot more appealing, when that commuter is facing traffic congestion along the I-95 corridor.
“Starting in 2017, Brightline will transform travel in southeast Florida,” said Brightline CMO Julie Edwards. “The new express passenger rail service will allow more people to live in West Palm Beach and work in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, or vice versa, seamlessly connecting the three cities in less than an hour and without the hassle of dealing with traffic.”
Critics say the increase in rail traffic along the Florida East Coast Railway corridor could create safety and traffic issues. FEC, sister company to All Aboard Florida, is partnering with state and local agencies to implement quiet zones and awareness campaigns along the line.
Bottom line: In the short-term, Palm Beach County will see more train traffic and a push to use Brightline as a commuter service. In the long-term, we could see more of Miami-Dade and Broward counties’ residents moving north to the West Palm Beach area to escape congestion.
Spanish River Boulevard interchange
If you live in or regularly commute through southern Palm Beach County, the news that work on the new I-95 interchange at Spanish River Boulevard in Boca Raton is nearing completion could be music to your ears.
The project, which started in 2014 and has an estimated cost of nearly $70 million, including the construction of 13 bridges between Spanish River Boulevard and Yamato. Florida Department of Transportation officials say the new interchange will provide a direct exit and entrance for Florida Atlantic University while helping relieve the busy Glades Road interchange.
Bottom line: Expect work on this project to be completed this coming summer.
Push to lower the number of traffic deaths
In 2015, the U.S. saw its largest increase in traffic fatalities since the 1960s. And early estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the first half of 2016 aren’t any better, showing a 10 percent increase for the first six months of 2016 over the same period the year before.
In response to the growing number of road deaths, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched the Road to Zero coalition, a combined effort between several federal agencies and the National Safety Council to raise awareness and improve safety on U.S. roads.
“Our vision is simple — zero fatalities on our roads,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a news release announcing the coalition in October. “We know that setting the bar for safety to the highest possible standard requires commitment from everyone to think differently about safety — from drivers to industry, safety organizations and government at all levels.”
Though completely eliminating traffic deaths may seem a lofty goal, the coalition wants to accomplish this within the next 30 years.
Bottom line: Drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists will hear the term “Road to Zero” a lot in 2017. As more state and local officials take up the banner, you can expect to see major road safety campaigns pop up throughout the U.S.
Let’s take a longer look ahead at a project that will see construction in 2018: That’s right, express lanes aren’t just for I-95 anymore. Florida’s Turnpike plans to add express lanes through southern and central Palm Beach County as turnpike officials combat an increase in congestion. The turnpike express lanes will cost slightly more to enter than the general-use lanes, starting at 25 cents over the usual toll.
Bottom line: In 2017, expect to hear more from state officials on their plans to add express lanes to both highways in Palm Beach County. Construction isn’t slated to begin on any express lanes in the county until 2018, with work on one stretch of the turnpike set for 2022.
Kristina Webb is the transportation reporter for The Palm Beach Post. Contact her via email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Twitter, @kristinawebb.