Years after local politicians scrapped plans for a Northlake Boulevard flyover at the Beeline Highway, the state has called for U-turns and an unusual lane configuration to smooth traffic flow at the major western intersection.
With construction expected to start in summer, the biggest change is how cars would turn without gumming up the intersection that funnels traffic in and out of The Acreage and nearby communities and handles truck traffic feeding the Port of Palm Beach.
The intersection is the most vexing portion of a $107 million project to add two lanes to a three-mile stretch of the Beeline from Northlake to Blue Heron Boulevard, including rebuilding the bridge over Florida’s Turnpike.
To avoid stopping traffic for left-turn movements without a flyover, state engineers say the answer in two instances is to steer traffic in the wrong direction and require a U-turn at a newly installed stoplight to get them back on track:
- If you’re driving southeast on the Beeline but you want to go left (east) on Northlake, you’ll actually turn right (west) on Northlake, make a U-turn at a newly installed stoplight and then enter the eastbound traffic flow on Northlake back across the Beeline.
- If you’re driving west on Northlake and want to turn left at Beeline, you’ll go through the intersection and wait at that same U-turn stoplight, make your U-turn, cross into the right lane and turn right at the Beeline.
A further complication comes with the sole left turn that will be allowed.
Traveling northwest on Beeline toward Martin County, drivers who want to turn left to go west on Northlake would snake across oncoming lanes at a newly installed stoplight and then flow left into westbound Northlake traffic.
It’s called a displaced left turn and would be the first in Palm Beach County.
When presented with the proposal a year ago, “we literally laughed at it,” said Sal Faso, president of the North County Neighborhood Coalition.
He pointed out that drivers heading south on the Beeline would have cars coming at them from both sides because of the displaced left turn lane, a confusing and challenging approach.
“How many accidents do we have to have before you realize that people are not going to understand it?” he asked.
Divides west from east
The intersection is complicated because the Beeline Highway, also known as State Road 710, runs at a sharp diagonal as it links Indiantown in Martin County to the port.
It’s also a critical boundary: to the west begins the long stretch of Northlake bordered on both sides by the West Palm Beach Grassy Waters Preserve, the catchment area for the city’s drinking water. Beyond the catchment sits Ibis, Avenir, The Acreage and several smaller communities that are home to thousands with more homes still rising.
For residents in the northern half of The Acreage, an unincorporated area with an estimated 41,000 residents, no other east-west road options exist. Their only other way out is to drive miles south to Okeechobee or Southern boulevards.
And for residents moving into Avenir, the 4,000-home community under construction on the former Vavrus Ranch in Palm Beach Gardens, the Beeline offers a back door. But most drivers leaving by that back door are expected to travel southeast — through the Northlake-Beeline intersection.
So much traffic is expected to flow from Avenir into the intersection that developers in 2015 pledged $12.3 million toward its expansion as a condition to be allowed to build.
PGA National led objections
But plans at the time for a $159 million project that included elevating Northlake over Beeline, supported by state and county engineers, died at the hands of politicians citing opposition in the nearby corner of PGA National, where residents feared headlights from cars on 24-foot-high ramps would shine into their backyards.
“This is another road to nowhere trying to become a road to somewhere,” then-Palm Beach Gardens Vice Mayor Eric Jablin, who lives near the intersection in PGA National, told transportation planners in February 2014. “This is something that residents both east and west don’t want.”
Officials also feared the highway-style interchange would justify building more homes at Avenir and other western properties that were then seeking development rights.
“The flyover, as proposed, opens the floodgates for intense western development,” Councilmember Marcie Tinsley said at a February 2014 meeting. “We have to be mindful of that.”
While development has now been approved, the opposition forced FDOT engineers to redesign the intersection.
“It’s a fact,” FDOT project manager Jim Hughes said. “We had a preferred alternative that had grade-separated ramps (a flyover) but due to public opposition we changed the design.”
The only highway-style ramp to survive the redesign is the existing one for eastbound Northlake drivers who follow a looping exit lane to go northwest on the Beeline.
Hughes led a Zoom meeting with neighbors Dec. 15 and, even though the state plans to complete designs in spring and hire a contractor for the job this summer, said he would be happy to set up another meeting to hear from the community in January.
© 2021 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.