Design, construction dates for proposed I-95 flyovers at Southern Blvd

Two large-scale flyovers would alleviate gridlock and improve safety the next two decades for the Interstate 95 interchange at Southern Boulevard in West Palm Beach, a state consultant said in a presentation Thursday before the county’s independent transportation planning agency.

But several members of the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization’s board expressed skepticism, wondering if enough has been done to notify residents of the potential changes — including residents of tiny Cloud Lake, whose main revenue driver, a billboard, could be affected.

» RELATED: Residents fired up over plans for I-95 interchange at Southern

The raised lanes are part of FDOT’s “preferred alternative,” one of several options the state put out to the public for consideration beginning last year in a series of kick-off meetings and public hearings.

FDOT launched the study into the Southern Boulevard interchange last year as it looks at updating nearly every I-95 interchange in Palm Beach County to accommodate an expected spike in traffic through 2040. Design for the interchange project is expected to happen in 2021, with construction beginning in 2024. The state has budgeted nearly $90 million for design, construction and right-of-way purchase.

In the presentation, FDOT consultants with RS&H Inc. said of the five alternatives considered in the state’s study of the interchange, the one that best meets the future transportation needs of the area includes flyovers from eastbound Southern to northbound I-95, and from northbound I-95 to westbound Southern.

RS&H project manager Cassie Piché said the flyovers will rise 86 feet. Because of their height and the proximity to Palm Beach International Airport, she said planners have worked with the Federal Aviation Administration and have designed lower-level light poles “so flyovers don’t encroach on airspace.”

» RELATED: Discussion of plans to change I-95 interchange at Southern gets tense

Piché also said a barrier wall would not be necessary between the El Vedado neighborhood east of the highway and the flyover from eastbound Southern to northbound I-95.

The state will have to buy some right-of-way from landowners on both the north and south sides of Southern west of I-95, Piché said, but “no relocations will be required.”

Board member and Palm Beach County Mayor Paulette Burdick expressed hesitation, suggesting the MPO board postpone its endorsement of the flyover plan until after FDOT holds a public hearing in October — a motion that moved forward, with MPO Executive Director Nick Uhren saying the MPO will discuss the interchange again at its December meeting.

“The presentation didn’t provide me with enough information to show (the billboard) would still be an economic generator,” Burdick said.

West Palm Beach Commissioner Paula Ryan asked how much the state has reached out to those who live near the interchange, specifically mentioning the El Vedado and Dreher Park neighborhoods.

FDOT’s Anson Sonnett said the project has incorporated many of the comments already made by residents at several public meetings held so far.

“We’ve worked with Cloud Lake to make sure they aren’t blocking the sign as much,” he said.

Sonnett also noted that FDOT and its consultants have met with residents at their homes near the interchanges barrier walls, with one of those meetings prompting a rendering in the presentation to show how the view looking east toward I-95 would change from those houses.

MPO staff and advisory council members are making suggestions to FDOT, including putting more of a focus on pedestrian and bicycle use in and near the interchange, Uhren said.

But he acknowledged that one suggestion is potentially controversial: removing the signal from the intersection of Gem Lake Drive and Southern Boulevard. Uhren said a recent state study of the State Road 80 corridor from the Glades to West Palm Beach is suggesting an “auto-oriented east-west auto expressway” with no signals between the west communities and I-95 — so not having the Gem Lake signal would be consistent with that report.

“If you going to go this far, go all the way with an auto-oriented outcome,” he said.

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