No flyover? No problem. FDOT says U-turn solution better

Residents fear nearly complete design at Northlake-Beeline intersection could become a chokepoint to The Acreage, Avenir, other western communities.

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Northlake Beeline

U-turns and a newfangled left-turn lane at the Northlake-Beeline intersection will do a better job of moving traffic smoothly and safely than a flyover, FDOT officials said Wednesday during a community Zoom meeting.

Not everyone at the meeting was convinced.

“They think it’s going to be better. I call bullshit,” said Ryan Darling, a Steeplechase resident among those agitating for reconsideration of the flyover proposal rejected eight years ago by local elected officials.

The Florida Department of Transportation is in the final stages of designing the intersection, part of a $107 million job to widen three miles of the Beeline Highway, and expects to put the project out to bid in July. 

“Stopping a project of this size this late in the game wouldn’t be easy,” FDOT project manager Jim Hughes told the 40 to 50 people on the call. “I just want to be upfront with everyone. This project is pretty far along for any kind of significant change right now.”

Not only did Hughes rule out returning to the flyover concept, he said the new approach will move traffic more efficiently.

Beeline Northlake
The displaced left turn lane on northbound Beeline Highway to westbound Northlake Boulevard. (FDOT)

How to eliminate left turns

He handed over the presentation to consulting engineer Smith Siromaskul of HDR in Portland, Ore., who Hughes called a “national expert” specializing in “diverging diamond interchanges.”

The key to the plan, Siromaskul said, is freeing cross-traffic from the long wait times for left turn movements. To do that, the designers move the left turns away from the intersection. 

In two cases — southbound Beeline to eastbound Northlake and westbound Northlake to southbound Beeline — they become U-turns at a single traffic signal west of the Beeline on Northlake.

In another instance — northbound Beeline to westbound Northlake — Beeline drivers would wait at a traffic signal, cross oncoming traffic and wait again at a signal to get to Northlake. 

In both cases, the engineer assured residents, there will be plenty of space for cars and trucks to stack while they await the signal.

Eliminating left turns at the intersection “is really the heart of why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Siromaskul said. “It allows us to simplify this without throwing a fourth lane on Northlake or State Road 710 (Beeline).”

Northlake Beeline
Politicians blocked a flyover once planned for the Northlake-Beeline intersection near PGA National. (FDOT)

Safety concerns eased

The approach won over Sal Faso, president of the North County Neighborhood Coalition, who told FDOT officials he sensed “no strong opposition at this point,” but that he would check later with coalition members, many of whom were on the call. 

Faso had been worried the crossover lanes would be unsafe but said he felt better when he saw examples of that approach applied in the Tampa area and elsewhere in the United States. It would be the first use of a divergent lane in Palm Beach County. 

The presentation also drew a request from Valerie Neilson, the interim head of the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency. She asked FDOT to draw up handouts better explaining their reasons for the current approach and for rejecting the flyover so that elected officials could better explain it to residents.

The decision to kill the flyover dates to 2014, when officials led by then-Palm Beach Gardens Vice Mayor Eric Jablin, who lived nearby in PGA National, asked FDOT to find a different approach.

At a February 2014 workshop of the precursor to the Transportation Planning Agency, PGA National residents lined up to tell officials it would ruin their property values because drivers on the flyover would have unobstructed views into their backyards.

Northlake Beeline
To go east on Northlake, southbound Beeline motorists would turn right at Northlake and make a U-turn. (FDOT)

‘The Rube Goldberg plan of intersections’

Residents pointed out the county is considering widening the now four-lane section of Northlake west of the intersection to six lanes and ultimately eight. The plan would provide six lanes through the intersection. 

With its U-turns and diverging turn lanes, the proposal is “the Rube Goldberg plan of intersections,” said Westlake resident Alicia Torres, who writes about the town at “Is this reversible?”

Darling, who pushed for a second community meeting after a less well-attended December meeting hosted by NCNC, fears that the increasing freight traffic on the CSX rail line that parallels the Beeline can only be overcome with a flyover.

“If you don’t get the road over that railway crossing, you’re wasting your time,” he said after the meeting. The result will be another chokepoint for the tens of thousands of residents living west of the tracks.

But the engineers pointed out that to go over the tracks, the flyover would have to be higher than normal, which means the slope leading up to it would be longer and more drawn out.

A $107 million project to widen the Beeline Highway to six lanes from four is planned for the three-mile section between Northlake and Blue Heron boulevards. (FDOT)

They also feared traffic leaving the flyover to turn would hit a bottleneck. Specifically, so much eastbound Northlake traffic would go southbound on the Beeline that it would require a two-lane ramp. 

“Wherever it goes up it’s gotta come down and where it comes down it almost always is going to be where your problems will be,” Siromaskul said.

© 2022 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.

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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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