- By Kevin D. Thompson Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
It’s about 3:30 p.m. on a recent afternoon in front of Diamond Auto Painting and Collision Center. Traffic is moving steadily along 10th Avenue North as cars breeze by the shop, a Lake Worth fixture for decades.
But in another 90 minutes, the scene changes. A sea of cars, SUVs and trucks are bumper to bumper, heading east towards Interstate 95.
“Yes, traffic really sucks,” said Kenneth Allison, a Diamond shop detailer. “There’s no getting out of here at all. If people can’t pull in here, they’re not going to, which means they’ll keep driving by.”
Welcome to the Federal Department of Transportation’s $11.2 million 10th Avenue North interchange project.
Started in November 2015, the project is the third of five interchange improvement projects in Palm Beach and Broward counties. Work is being done by Community Asphalt Corp., with about 40 people working on the project.
Work includes widening 10th Avenue North from Barnett Drive to A Street, expanding the northbound entrance ramp to offer dual eastbound left turn lanes and widening the existing three-lane southbound exit ramp to four lanes.
Other work, according to FDOT, includes bridge construction, barrier walls, curbs and sidewalks.
The most expensive part of the project is the widening of the bridge structure and the new retaining wall along the southbound off-ramp and eastbound 10th Avenue North, costing about $6 million.
The project is scheduled to be completed in April, according to Andrea Pacini, a project spokeswoman.
“This project will accommodate current and future traffic demands,” Pacini said.
But the April deadline is up in the air after a Bobcat construction vehicle hauled by a large tow truck hit the 10th Avenue North overpass earlier this month. The crash damaged the bridge, snarled northbound traffic for hours and shut down all eastbound lanes on 10th Avenue North.
Pacini said FDOT is examining the bridge to determine if it needs to be repaired or replaced.
“Depending on the outcome of that determination, a plan will be put in place to expedite any repair or replacement here,” she said. “Any lane closures along northbound I-95 to accomplish this work will be scheduled during off peak hours.”
But Kat Lytle, a service manager at Mobility Works, a company next door to Diamond that sells and repairs wheelchair lifts, said that’s not helping much. “It’s brutal in front of us every morning and every afternoon,” she said. “Our customers are afraid to leave the parking lot. It’s really dangerous.”
The traffic, however, doesn’t really bother Edward Nabhan, chief operating officer at Fun Depot, a large family amusement center with go-karts, laser tag, batting cages, video games and a cafe. “I don’t think it’s interfered with my business,” Nabhan said. “It’s OK for us. People know who we are and they see us whenever they drive by.”
Pacini said project managers have insured the same amount of existing lanes have remained open through construction. “Lane closures along 10th Avenue North are only permitted during nighttime hours…business access has not be restricted by this construction.”
Meanwhile, resident Barbara Resch Aubel said the overpass isn’t as safe as it could be considering school children are crossing it. “We have middle school children crossing the area with crazy, heavy traffic twice a day,” she said. “The remodel has not addressed these issues.”
Pacini said that FDOT has attended meetings with school personnel, including the School Advisory Council in Lake Worth Middle School and have kept them abreast of the project.
“We have not received any formal complaint regarding pedestrian access for middle school,” Pacini said. “The pedestrian access on the north side of the interchange has not been changed. The design build team and the department have met with the school and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office crossing guard coordinator (so) when pedestrian traffic needs to be shifted to the south side, additional crossing guards and an upgraded crosswalk striping at Barnett Drive will be implemented.”
As for Allison, he’s still sweating — and talking about the traffic — as he finishes the detailing on a car at Diamond.
“Picking up cars here is really difficult with all this going on,” he said, shaking his head. “We can’t get them out of here. But we’d like to go home, too.”