County stops stopping Gardens’ stoplight

Lawsuit could be averted as Palm Beach County agrees to accept Bay Hill Estates stoplight, with conditions.

Bay Hill Estates stoplight

Palm Beach County relented Wednesday in its opposition to a stoplight on Northlake Boulevard outside Bay Hill Estates.

A week after Palm Beach Gardens threatened to sue, the county said it still didn’t believe the light is warranted but it acknowledged a 2016 agreement “inadvertently” gave Gardens the power to decide, as Gardens City Attorney Max Lohman had insisted.

The county didn’t relent, however, in its opposition to the light, saying it could cause more crashes.

Bay Hill Estates stoplight
A truck passes the entrance to Bay Hill Estates at Northlake Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

“Installing an unwarranted traffic signal on this road is expected to significantly increase travel time for the residents of these communities (to the west) and has the potential to increase certain types of crashes such as rear-end and side-swipe,” the county said.

The Gardens Council authorized Lohman to sue the county after viewing a detailed presentation May 6. Lohman planned to first file suit over the county’s failure to fulfill his request for public records but the county on May 7 told him the documents would be ready this week.

READ MORE: Palm Beach Gardens council authorizes lawsuit vs. county

County Commissioner Maria Marino. (County Commission photo)

The city did not immediately respond to the county’s decision but County Commissioner Maria Marino, a former Gardens council member who has supported the light, welcomed it.

A stoplight will be safer, she said, but it won’t mean residents won’t have to wait to turn on to Northlake.

“Right now, people are waiting and then they’re darting out into traffic when they have a moment of opportunity,” she said. “They’re still going to have to wait when there’s a traffic light. However, now they’ll have an opportunity to safely turn onto the road. So I would ask for their patience.” 

The county’s acquiescence doesn’t come without conditions. The county wants to be indemnified against all legal liability. It wants the city to pay for the signal, as already planned. It wants the city to grant the county authority over all signals on all county-maintained thoroughfares. And the county wants to take over operation and maintenance of the Bay Hill signal, which means the county will have final say on how often the light changes and be able to sync the light with others on Northlake. 

Late morning rush hour on Northlake Boulevard from the Ancient Tree entrance. (Joel Engelhardt video)

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County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay. (County Commission photo)

Acreage residents led by County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay opposed the stoplight because it would slow the massive flow of traffic out of the 50,000-person community during the morning rush hour. Traffic already backs up in the morning on north-south roads with drivers seeking to go east on Northlake.

“This is a good faith effort to avoid wasting tax dollars on lawsuits,” McKinlay said. “I hope the city responds favorably. It’s not perfect but provides some assurances residents in The Acreage aren’t overly burdened by decreases to east/west traffic flow while allowing safety measures for Bay Hill and Ancient Tree residents.

The county submitted two memos Wednesday to the city. In a two-page memo, County Engineer David Ricks listed the conditions and conceded that the county is “constrained to follow” a 2016 agreement that gave the city OR the county the authority.

The city combined the entrance to its Sandhill Crane Golf Club with the newly constructed Ancient Tree. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

The 2016 memo came in an approval for the Ancient Tree development, 97 homes on 97 acres across from Bay Hill Estates. The county realigned the entrance to its Sandhill Crane Golf Club so it would share an entrance with Ancient Tree. With Bay Hill Estates across the street, the stoplight would go at that intersection.

The light, about 7 miles west of Interstate 95, would not be alone. Already, a stoplight exists at the Ibis Publix 1.7 miles to the east and at Coconut Boulevard about a mile to the west. And the 4,000-home Avenir to the west is likely to merit more signals.

In a second memo entitled “staff responses to the contentions in the Palm Beach Gardens’ letter signed by the city attorney,” the county restated the technical reasons behind Ricks’ initial refusal and rejected the city’s contention that once the signal is warranted it must be constructed. 

Citing the federal traffic signal manual, the county said, “Since vehicular delay and the frequency of some types of crashes are sometimes greater under traffic signal control than under stop sign control, consideration should be given to providing alternatives to traffic control signals even if one or more of the signal warrants has been satisfied.”

© 2021 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.

Author: Joel Engelhardt

Joel Engelhardt is an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor based in Palm Beach Gardens. He spent more than 40 years in the newspaper business, including 28 years at The Palm Beach Post. As a reporter, he covered countywide growth, the 2000 election and the birth of Cityplace in West Palm Beach. As an editor, he oversaw probes into the opioid scourge, private prisons, police-involved shootings and more. For seven years, he worked on the paper’s editorial board. Joel left The Post in December 2020. He and his wife, Donna, have lived together in Palm Beach Gardens since 1992.

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