Traffic, Traffic, and More Traffic

By Timothy Hullihan:

Much has been written and debated publicly about the proposed State Road 7 extension north to Northlake Boulevard. The debate pits the rural residents of northwest Palm Beach County against a gated golf community, so there’s enough demographic polarization to keep the discussion lively and interesting. Yet, both camps would be wise to join forces against looming developments that will make the State Road 7 project seem like a bike path by comparison.

I had the opportunity to sit down with County Engineer, George Webb, to discuss the traffic implications of 2 large developments planned in, and around, the western communities of Northern Palm Beach County that are approximately the same size as Minto West, approved earlier this year. GL Homes, and Avenir together would bring roughly 22,000 new residents to this rural part of the county on top of the approximately 14,000 already approved at Minto West. From just a traffic planning perspective, the facts are disturbing on many levels.

The relatively small number of people that chose the tranquility of pinelands and dirt roads dozens of years ago say the State Road 7 extension is an overdue reliever road, and it cannot be built soon enough. Yet, they may not realize that when it comes to estimating the additional traffic on existing roadways from these 2 huge developments, the reliever road they crave is already being used to justify and soften their stated impact.

The Ibis Community says the road project will threaten the environmentally sensitive lands to their east, and they have a powerful ally in the City of West Palm Beach because that sensitive land happens to be an important part of the city’s water supply. They may not realize, however, that a 12-lane wide Northlake Boulevard through the heart of the Grassy Waters Preserve is a far greater threat to not only the water within these pristine wetlands, but to life as we know it in Northern Palm Beach County.

The State Road 7 debate is a distraction that is dividing 2 communities that have a much larger common enemy they must fight together.

Below is a map that shows the needed road improvements that the county’s traffic engineers have concluded will be needed to maintain the established minimum level of service on the effected roadways when the 109,000 daily trips from Avenir and GL Homes are added to Minto’s projected trips and then inserted into these presently rural western enclaves. The map is a combination of the separate traffic studies prepared by each developer.


(Please “click” the map above to enlarge it.)

The realities are head-spinning. Northlake Boulevard west of Ibis presently accommodates approximately 28,400 trips per day. That grows to 109,000 daily trips, or a 384% increase in traffic, if these developments are approved. East of Ibis, these 109,000 trips combine with the existing trips generated by Ibis and a staggering projection for the future of Northlake Boulevard to the east plays out. Twelve lanes through the Grassy Waters Preserve lead to massive flyovers at the Beeline Highway and Military Trail (marked with blue dots and called “urban interchanges” in the PBC Traffic Map above).

Though the 12-lanes through the Grassy Waters Preserve is the most shocking, especially since there is no practical way to implement this, the impacts of these proposed developments are more far reaching. As the engineering map shows, there’s a 12-lane section needed on Southern Boulevard; 10-lanes on the Beeline Highway; 10-lanes on Okeechobee Boulevard with a flyover at State Road 7; 6-lanes at PGA Boulevard and Indiantown Road west of the Turnpike; and much more.

Probably the most interesting thing I learned from Mr. Webb is that none of these improvements have to be put in-place by the developers of the projects. They simply have to contribute their “proportional share” of the estimated funds needed to make all of the projected roadway improvements their projects will make painfully necessary down the road.

One of the results of the dismantling of the State Department of Community Affairs to make us a more developer-friendly State was the removal of the logical connection between development and the needed improvements to transportation systems they cause. Our State leaders saw this as too onerous on land developers and too restrictive to population growth, job-creation and tax revenues we are entirely too focused on. Although developments and their associated roadway improvements were joined for decades, today a developer just has to write a check for his estimated share of a hypothetical set of roadway improvements that may or may not ever get constructed. Worse, the higher first-costs of developing alternative means of transportation are not even considered in the calculations, even though they will have to be a considered where Grassy Waters meets Northlake Boulevard. There simply isn’t enough land within the existing right-of-way to build 12-lanes of traffic, unless it is expanded horrifically deep into the scenic preserve.

So, please, turn your attention away from the State Road 7 sideshow, and become aware of a much greater, and more imminent set of problems. Minto West is already approved. Avenir and GL Homes will be seeking approval in the coming months. If approved, and since nobody in power is talking about alternative transportation methods, we the people will have 2 regrettable car-centered choices. Either build a massively expansive system of roadways at the expense of much of the remaining scenic beauty of our county (and any hope of a smarter transportation network), or get used to roadway congestion and spending a lot of time in our cars.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect and freelance writer living in North Palm Beach.

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16 Responses to Traffic, Traffic, and More Traffic

  1. So, what do we do, specifically, to stop approval of the new projects? Great article, but there’s no action request.

    • timhullihan says:

      Dr. Schmidt: Thank you for the question. The article is attended to get people informed. Hopefully, people are called to action in the old-fashioned American way, and reach-out to their elected officials.

  2. Pingback: Traffic, Traffic, and More Traffic | Walkable West Palm Beach

  3. Debbie says:

    Excellent and informative article! However reaching out to elected officials is what developers do so most elected officials, city and county are already spoken for.

    Elected Officials place too much emphasis on building the tax base while ignoring the strain caused by over development on our roads, water and municipal services. Returning home to Palm Beach County used to be a welcome relief after a trip to Broward and Dade Counties but we’re looking more and more like the concrete jungle and over crowding down south.

    • timhullihan says:

      Debbie: Thank you for your comments. I can appreciate your frustration with “politics as usual.” However, our elected officials ultimately approve or disapprove these projects. We have no choice but to let them hear our voices, and hopefully make a difference. Please share this article and help spread the word.

  4. Michael Canape says:

    Hi Tim its been a long time since we spoke. Looking at this I can see where things in Palm Beach county are changing and really not for the best. I have been out of the county now for about 30 years. The last time I was in town was about 5 years ago and I could not stand all the traffic which was in the county. Debbie is right in what she has stated that Palm Beach county is becoming more and more like Dade and Broward counties. Personally I wish the county remained like it was when we were in school together. I remember the area which you are speaking about was pretty much all natural. Bad thing is money is the factor. Builders do not care about what effect they have on the area or what future impact they will have. All that is important is the dollar. The land owner doesn’t care either, it is just a profit. Your elected officials that you state we should push to really review these things all promised that they would do so much for us, put between being elected and actually being sworn in something happens to these individuals. They all become “yes” men and do what will get the votes and what will put money in their pockets. Prior to these projects and behind closed doors these elected officials and builders got together to change and make sure that all the changes needed to push the project through is already done by the time it goes public. Its sad but this is what things come down to. I know northern Palm Beach when I grew up there was natural and beautiful. Now coming to visit I try to avoid it.

    Michael Canape

    • timhullihan says:

      Mike: Great to hear from you, and thank you for your comments. The next time you are back in PBC, drive west of the Beeline Highway on Northlake Blvd. and you will see a beautiful remnant of the Everglades. I never thought development would threaten it, but it is, presently, and may look very different in a few years. So, hurry home, and see it before it is gone.

  5. Jesse Bailey says:

    Very important story that I’m glad you have taken the time to write. I can’t thing of any set of issues that will impact our county’s development pattern more than these.

    One qualm – The use of the word “improvement” to describe these roadway expansions. As Ian Lockwood taught me, we should be using neutral language to describe such projects. An improvement for whom? Surely, not Grassy Waters or taxpayers.

    Interestingly, when Lockwood worked at the City of WPB, we actually had a policy memo directing staff to use neutral language. I don’t know if it’s still in effect (doubt it) but it should be.

    • timhullihan says:

      Excellent point, Jesse! I am guilty of using the language of a mind set that permits the narrow vision of progress, when defined in merely empirical terms, to supercede the broader wisdom of holistic and sustainable growth policies.

      • Jesse Bailey says:

        It’s easy to do because we’ve all been programmed in this way. I have had to retrain myself to not use such biased transportation language but I still find myself slip up sometimes. Thought it was worth pointing out. 🙂

  6. jojomilano says:

    We are fighting. No one is listening. We could use more help. We’ve taken it to the court system. Minto asked for increases they should never have received. The BCC didn’t listen to the traffic scenario described above then and will not when GL homes comes into play. AND Avenir isn’t on the Boards’ radar as that is a City of Palm Beach Garden issue in their estimation since Avenir sits in their boundaries. So, there are those of us fighting it. Just not enough and running out of steam, money, and solutions.

    Good post though! And appreciate that others are taking note. We will lose the very reason so many of us live out here. The quality of our lives will become nothing more then sitting in traffic, noise and pollution. I lived in Davie, I saw what Weston did to the area. This is triple that threat.

    ALL of Palm Beach county needs to start to “take note”, this is not just a Western Community issue any longer. You didn’t mention.. ultimately who pays for these roads for overdevelopment… WE DO! All of PBC will be paying for this miasma…. Road increases, and population, we do not want. Nor can afford.

    • timhullihan says:

      Hi Jo Jo! Welcome to my blog. I wrote my Masters Thesis on New Urbanism in 1987, and The Congress for New Urbanism was chartered in 1993. Their charter lists 27 principles that are anti-car, anti-sprawl, and pro-smart growth. These 3 massive projects I wrote about recently are the very opposite of New Urbanism and shockingly out of touch with smart planning principles being embraced around the world. Keep fighting!!!

      • jojomilano says:

        I hope when the time comes, to dispute their claims of ‘new urbanism’ you will write and speak out, a voice of your knowledge on the subject might have some sway. I know they tossed around “new urbanism” ad nauseum and no matter what we’ve tried to do disputing it didn’t work. Love your writing style. Will keep you bookmarked to share. Thanks!

  7. timhullihan says:

    Thank you for your kind words. Please check-out and share “Avenir: Sprawl in New Urbanist Clothing.” It is an earlier post in the blog.

  8. Todd K says:

    Tim, that is a great blog post and commentary that drills home on some very important points. As a person that grew up in Broward and with family living in Miami from the 1940’s I’ve witnessed the constant sell-out to the developers as Florida is being overrun with concrete and asphalt. Money rules the day and the large land owners have the politicians in their pockets or are the politicians / families themselves. We can fight the good fight but it’s obvious from attending any number of commissioner meetings public input is only held out of compliance necessity and checking off the box on some form. However I will not give up hope that some day the tide may turn.

    • timhullihan says:

      Hey Todd: Thanks for reading my blog and replying so thoughtfully. This article was also published by the Palm Beach Post, as an op Ed, and by ContextFlorida, an online magazine. Unfortunately, however, in spite of its wide circulation, there has been little public outcry over the over development of the few remaining portions of Palm Beach County that are rural. GL Homes, for example, continued their march toward approval on Friday before PBC’s Planning Board.

      What I find most disheartening is that most of the rest of the country, if not the world, has aggressively adapted smart growth policies. However, here in Florida, under Governor Scott’s leadership we have abandoned all of our smart growth policies and return to a 1970s style of development that is very hard for people like you need to stop.

      My only advice is for you to stay involved, stay informed, and to keep fighting.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful reply!!

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