Fast fix is no fix for PGA backups at I-95

Work to start Nov. 9 but FDOT engineers concede $10 million project will do little to ease backups on PGA Boulevard by the Gardens Mall.

PGA I-95

If you drive west on PGA Boulevard to get on Interstate 95 during the afternoon rush hour, you know the problem.

Cars back onto PGA from the ramp to the highway, starting where the ramp from PGA merges with a ramp from Alternate A1A. 

A $10 million project to improve the southbound traffic flow, set to start Nov. 9 and last more than a year, may make it easier for motorists once they reach the highway. But, as project managers made clear at a launch meeting Thursday, the improvements will do little to ease the backups that bring westbound traffic near the Gardens Mall on PGA to a near standstill every afternoon. 

PGA Boulevard
Interstate 95 facing south, where construction will focus to add a merge lane for traffic from eastbound PGA. (FDOT photo)

The construction will provide a dedicated merge lane on I-95 from westbound PGA so that those motorists won’t have to join the main traffic flow as quickly as they do now. 

But that’s not where the backups originate, the consulting engineers agreed. The problem, they said, is where the ramps from PGA and Alternate A1A merge into one lane. 

But no one studied the backups and the project does not aim to ease congestion, they said, just “operations and safety.”

“There was no scope that included any improvements for the southbound State Road A1A ramp connection to the westbound PGA Boulevard ramp,” said Doug Green, a consultant with the engineering firm RS&H. “That was not part of the interchange traffic analysis.”

The online and in-person meeting drew about as many members of the public as it did  engineers and Florida Department of Transportation workers to Palm Beach Gardens City Hall (nine). 

Last December, FDOT planners moved the project up two years with an influx of federal COVID-relief money. Even then, Palm Beach Gardens Mayor Chelsea Reed warned that it would not bring a comprehensive fix to the problem of too many cars at afternoon rush hour relying on a single lane to get on the highway.

Adding a second lane to the ramp, however, would require years of study and would cost far more than $10 million. Such a project would have to compete with other projects already in the hopper for construction money. 

PGA Boulevard flyover
The PGA Boulevard flyover at Interstate 95.

The cure, state planners said in March 2021 when they budgeted $7.2 million for the work, is to give drivers more room to merge once they enter the main highway. Now they’re saying it won’t necessarily be a cure at all.

Workers will add a lane on the far western edge of the highway for drivers entering the highway from eastbound PGA. Instead of an entrance lane that extends all the way to Northlake Boulevard, as it does now, those drivers will be forced to merge into traffic by the time they reach the bridge over Burns Road, about a half-mile from PGA.  

The project is scheduled to take 421 days and any ramp closures would be done between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Project managers said such closures will probably not amount to more than two weeks of the 421 days but when the ramps are closed at night, traffic would be detoured to Military Trail and Northlake Boulevard to go south on I-95.

© 2022 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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