WPB warns of long fight to block State Road 7

The controversial extension of State Road 7 in West Palm Beach dominated a Florida Department of Transportation public hearing Tuesday night in Fort Lauderdale.

The hearing, required under state law, dealt with the DOT’s five-year work program covering projects in the five counties in District 4 — Palm Beach, Broward, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River.

The hourlong hearing was held in Fort Lauderdale but was also broadcast at DOT offices in West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce as well as an online webinar.

Palm Beach County Engineer George Webb (L) and Royal Palm Beach councilman Jeff Hmarra wait for start of FDOT hearing to be broadcast in West Palm Beach.
Palm Beach County Engineer George Webb (L) and Royal Palm Beach councilman Jeff Hmara wait for start of FDOT hearing to be broadcast in West Palm Beach.

Of the dozens of projects in the district’s plan, only one generated comments – the 4-mile connection of State Road 7 from 60th Street North to Northlake Boulevard.

Three people attended the hearing in Fort Lauderdale and four attending in West Palm Beach.

Speaking in support of the project, from the West Palm office, were Royal Palm Beach councilman Jeff Hmara and Palm Beach County Engineer George Webb.

In Fort Lauderdale, a lawyer representing the city of West Palm Beach spoke against the project.

Roger Sims, a water resources and environmental expert with the law firm Holland & Knight, warned that the city will do everything it can to prevent the road from being built.

The city is worried the road will harm Grassy Waters Preserve, a 24-square-mile marsh that the city relies on for drinking water.

The county and its central-western communities want the road to help relieve traffic.

The DOT proposal earmarks $50 million for the construction of the extension for fiscal year 2017, which starts July 1, 2016 and ends June 30, 2017. That’s two years earlier than the current plan, but Sims said that doesn’t mean construction will start next year or the year after, if ever.

Roger Sims
Roger Sims

He said the city plans to lobby two key agencies to reject required permits – the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District.

“Moving money to fiscal year 2017 is really not realistic. There’s long way to go with permitting,’’ Sims said at the hearing.

“The city understands there are traffic issues and we’re not opposed to improving the traffic situation jn that part of the county. It’s that particular alignment that gives us a major cause for concern.’’

Sims said, “We would prefer to work with folks to resolve this but it is going to be our duty and responsibility to all of the citizens of the city and of the region and, for that matter, the country to protect this aquatic resource of national importance.

“We will exercise all legal rights and remedies…’’

Holland & Knight has billed the city about $130,000 since 2014 to fight State Road 7. That’s part of $900,000 the city has spent on outside lawyers since 2008 to fight SR 7 and two other roads near Grassy Waters Preserve.

State Road 7 part of FDOT public hearing Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale

The Florida Department of Transportation is holding a public hearing Tuesday night on its proposed five-year plan for district 4.

The plan includes a key Palm Beach County project — restoring money to pay for the controversial extension of State Road 7 from 60th Street North to Northlake Boulevard.

That money was pushed  back last year to 2019 but the new proposal would move it up to the fiscal year that starts July 1, 2107.

The hearing starts at 6:30 p.m. in Fort Lauderdale at the FDOT office at 3400 W. Commercial Blvd.

The public may register to participate through an online webinar at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2912439544964740865.

Palm Beach County residents can watch the webinar at the DOT’s Palm Beach Operations Center, 7900 Forest Hill Blvd. in West Palm Beach.

A DOT presentation of Palm Beach County’s proposed work plan will be held Oct. 15 at the county’s offices at Vista Center, 2300 N. Jog Rd., just north of Okeechobee Boulevard.

State Road 7 debate prompts new location for transportation board’s next meeting

The Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization will hold its next board meeting in a new location to accommodate an expected crowd.

The MPO board meeting on Oct. 15 will be held at 9 a.m. in a conference room on the first floor of Palm Beach County’s offices at Vista Center, 2300 N. Jog Rd., just north of Okeechobee Boulevard.
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MPO staff made the decision to move the meeting to Vista Center late Wednesday after reading a story in The Palm Beach Post about the controversial State Road 7 extension.

The MPO board’s monthly meetings usually are held on the 12th floor of the county Governmental Center in downtown West Palm Beach. But that meeting room is much smaller than the one at Vista Center.

The Florida Department of Transportation will present the MPO board with a proposed five-year work program for Palm Beach County. That program includes one significant change: Moving up to 2017 construction money for the 4-mile extension of SR & from 60th Street North to Northlake Boulevard.

The current DOT program has the money earmarked for 2019, but the MPO board last year asked the DOT to restore the money to 2017.

The road project has been a topic of controversy. The county’s central-western communities want the road because it will help relieve traffic.

But the city of West Palm Beach opposes the link because city officials say it will harm the city’s drinking water supply, which comes from Grassy Waters Preserve, a 24-square-mile marsh that’s just east of the proposed road extension.