Florida Department of Transportation officials got an earful from residents Thursday evening about planned changes for the Interstate 95 interchange at Southern Boulevard.
The state is considering several options at the interchange as traffic projections show a surge in cars traveling the area over the next two decades. More than 90 residents, local public officials and business owners packed a conference room at the Hilton hotel near Palm Beach International Airport to share their thoughts on the project, which is in the early planning stages.
Among the options the state is studying: a flyover for traffic exiting northbound I-95 onto westbound Southern Boulevard; a flyover for traffic entering northbound I-95 from eastbound Southern; both flyovers; widened entrance and exit ramps to I-95; bike lanes; new sidewalks; and improved lighting in some spots.
Several residents voiced concerns that while FDOT’s study includes the intersection of Parker Avenue and Southern Boulevard, it does not include changes to Parker north of the intersection — only to the south.
Jose Rodriguez, a resident of West Palm Beach’s historic Vedado neighborhood, said he wants to see the city work with FDOT to fix what he said is “a mess” on Parker north of Southern.
Anson Sonnett, FDOT project manager, said FDOT had included Parker north of Southern in its initial study, presented at a kickoff meeting last year. However, Sonnett said, the feedback at that time was different.
“People were saying, ‘Why are you doing that on Parker when the county just did work there?’” he said, referring to a project completed about five years ago that narrowed Parker between Southern and Belvedere Road from four lanes to two, with a turn lane in the middle at many points.
Now, he said, FDOT will discuss the segment the next time planners meet with the city.
Rodriguez also cited a need to consider the aesthetics of the project — which could include flyovers that Vedado residents may be able to see from their backyards.
“Progress is good, but it has to be responsible,” he said.
Other attendees at the workshop said they were worried the project may have a negative effect on the tiny towns of Glen Ridge and Cloud Lake, which sit to the southwest of the interchange.
Oscar Ardoguein, a 35-year resident of Glen Ridge, stood outside the conference hall examining large displays showing renderings of the various options, trying to determine how the project could affect his home.
“I understand the need for it,” he said. “It’s definitely needed. But I just want to know if it’s coming onto my property.”
Cloud Lake Town Clerk Dorothy Gravelin said in addition to being concerned about potential drainage and traffic effects, her residents are worried about revenue. The billboard at the southwest corner of I-95 and Southern is the town’s major source of income, she said.
“What if the flyovers block the view?” she said. “The southbound I-95 traffic would be completely unable to see it.”
Several residents also attended from the small neighborhood tucked between Vedado and I-95.
Lily Reynolds said she’s lived in her home on Oak Street for 46 years — and now is considering selling. Her concern is dust, debris and garbage kicked up from the traffic on I-95.
She sees the need for the project but wants to see a smart solution to the impending traffic demands.
“The traffic’s going to increase and increase and increase, regardless of what they do,” she said.
Reynolds said she thinks the land where her home and more than a dozen others stand should be rezoned to commercial use. “This would be a beautiful location for a hotel,” she added.
Engineers and consultants are reviewing the options presented Thursday evening to determine which would be the best to accommodate the amount of traffic the interchange is expected to see by 2040.
Final design of the project is slated for 2021. The state would buy right-of-way in 2022 and construction would happen in 2024. The estimated cost of design and construction of the project is about $82 million, with another $6 million set aside to buy right-of-way.
Residents who could not attend Thursday’s workshop can find all documents from the presentation on the project’s website, www.i95atsouthern.com. Sonnett said those with questions or comments can call him at 954-777-4474.
Work is planned for nearly every I-95 interchange in Palm Beach County over the next 20 years, part of the state’s efforts to take a long-range look at traffic levels along major arteries.
To learn more about the plans for the Interstate 95 interchange at Southern Boulevard, go to www.i95atsouthern.com or call Florida Department of Transportation project manager Anson Sonnett at 954-777-4474.