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.
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.
It’s blessed in practical ways as well, with abundant parking, helpful police and a supportive landlord.
“It’s the best location in the entire county,” Guardiola says.
But this fall the corner of Military Trail and PGA Boulevard is going to be ripped up in a $1.3 million county construction project to add a right-turn lane.
And construction is expected to last about 10 months, meaning that 13-foot wide strip along southbound Military Trail will be off limits as the race for Florida governor heats up.
“It’s going to kill us,” Guardiola said when informed of the county’s road construction plan. “That’s where I’m going to hold all my DeSantis rallies.”
‘A captive audience’
Once construction is done, as the 2024 presidential election looms, the corner will have shrunk. It’s not exactly huge now. The lawn pitches sharply upward from the sidewalk leading to a flower bed and shrubs surrounding the brick-bordered sign proclaiming Garden Square Shoppes.
Guardiola, president of Christian on a Mission, loves it because of ample parking nearby but when more than 1,000 flag-waving Trump supporters show up the patch of grass and sidewalk outside the Bank of America branch fills fast.
For political purposes, the long wait drivers endure to turn right is a plus —”a captive audience,” Guardiola calls them.
“It could be positive or it could be negative. If it’s Trump people, it could be great,” he said. When it’s anti-Trumpers, the former college basketball referee urges supporters to ignore catcalls and say nothing.
Rallies open with prayer
He credits the peaceful nature of the corner, which began hosting Trump rallies in June 2016, to police presence and prayer.
At the start of each rally, usually held at 4:30 p.m. on Fridays, a friend from his church blesses the site with holy water. The group recites a prayer.
“We’ve never had an incident,” he said. “It’s the holy water. It’s prayer. … Police and prayer.”
Before the 2016 Trump campaign, the corner often drew local sign-wavers on election day. But Guardiola believes the colorful Trump rallies have usurped that old identity. “We went big. This is national. It isn’t local,” he said. “It sets the tone for the state of Florida.”
That help explains his reaction in September, after Democrats began holding Wednesday rallies on Trump Corner to counter his Friday rallies.
“This isn’t just any intersection. I mean this is Trump corner. It’s got a name. It’s nationally known,” Guardiola told CBS-12. “And for another group to come out here, it’s just a lack of respect. I’ll say it over and over again. I would never do that to anybody.”
Democrats were aghast.
“I can’t believe you think this corner is yours. This is public property,” former Gardens Mayor Eric Jablin, a Democrat who helped organize the rallies, said this week. “They’re getting their just rewards (with the construction) as far as I’m concerned.”
Strip of land costs $386,000
The county engineer in charge of the project said she had never heard of Trump Corner and the corner’s political calling card had nothing to do with the decision to add the turn lane. The need came up in routine traffic reviews, said Kathleen Farrell, the county’s assistant director for roadway production, and the wheels of government began turning.
The county sued the owners of the Garden Square Shoppes, Jan Real Estate, in December to seize a 355-foot long strip that amounts to about a fifth of an acre. In April, a Palm Beach County Circuit judge approved the county’s bottom line offer, $386,370, for the 13-foot wide strip and an adjoining 6 feet. Jan Real Estate can challenge the valuation and go to trial if it believes it is due more money.
Five bids came in on June 1, ranging from $1.26 million to $1.71 million. The winning bidder must be approved by the Palm Beach County Commission, expected in September or October, before construction can begin.
The county originally estimated the job would take 150 days but with material shortages caused by the pandemic it increased the time to 300 days.
That means if work begins in November, it could last until the end of August.
Guardiola said he would show up to contest the plan.
“I will be there to stake my claim. This has been our corner for five years.”
Driver’s license building could be demolished this summer if truce holds between Tax Collector Anne Gannon and Palm Beach Gardens.
It’s arguably the ugliest building on PGA Boulevard.
Amid upscale office towers and the Gardens Mall, the squat, blue-trimmed structure looks like a mistake, vacant and grim, the blue-lettered “DRIVER LICENSES” sign washed away long ago.
In the last public action, the Palm Beach Gardens City Council approved Tax Collector Anne Gannon’s $11 million proposal to replace the former driver’s license building with a structure nearly 10 times the size.
That was in May 2019.
Since then, nothing has happened. At least not at the building site.