TRAFFIC ISSUES AT ATLANTIC BOULEVARD & DIXIE HIGHWAY INTERSECTION IN POMPANO BEACH ARE GETTING CLOSER TO BEING RESOLVED
BY MARIE PULEO | POMPANO BEACH NEWS REPORTER
TRAFFIC ISSUES AT ATLANTIC BOULEVARD & DIXIE HIGHWAY: Ongoing traffic issues resulting from the new traffic pattern “pilot program” implemented at the Atlantic Boulevard and Dixie Highway intersection last October are moving closer to being resolved.
The pilot program was put in place because the intersection is being redesigned as part of the City’s plan to create a new pedestrian-friendly urban downtown, which includes the future Innovation District.
Last week, Paul Kissinger, one of the consultants hired by the city to study the intersection, and Joaquin Vargas, the city’s traffic engineer, gave the City Commission an update on the latest efforts to improve traffic conditions, with a focus on westbound traffic on Atlantic Boulevard, which has been the most problematic.
The plastic delineator posts that were installed to establish the new traffic patterns are about to be removed.
Since October, Kissinger and Vargas have been reworking the traffic patterns and traffic signalization, as well as collecting data, to achieve better traffic flow.
“We have all the information we need to move on,” said Kissinger. The information will now be transmitted to the engineers that are doing the final design work.
The next steps will be to remove the traffic delineators in a phased approach, to change the striping back to the way it was, and to optimize the streetscape plans with the engineers.
Kissinger said the delineators on Dixie Highway will be removed first, probably in the next couple of weeks, and the target date to remove the rest of the delineators is by the end of March.
The delineators will be removed in two steps so a count can be taken on Dixie Highway to determine whether or not one section of median needs to be moved.
Kissinger said removal of the delineators will need to be coordinated with the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO).
Commissioner Tom McMahon made a motion, and it passed, to remove the delineators as quickly as possible and at night in order to cause the least amount of disruption to residents.
“We will do what we can to expedite it as soon as we can,” said Kissinger.
Kissinger anticipates construction of the final design will begin on the Dixie Highway segment sometime later this year, followed by construction of the segment of Atlantic Boulevard east of Dixie Highway. The final design will need to be coordinated with the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) because the FEC will also be making some safety improvements within the intersection, including the installation of pedestrian crossing arms.
Assistant City Manager Suzette Sibble was there to reiterate the vision of the new downtown, which will be the future economic engine of Pompano Beach.
The goal of the redesigned Atlantic Boulevard/Dixie Highway intersection is to create a gateway to the city, to improve safety and connectivity, and to serve as a catalyst for attracting private development to the area. The intersection will include wider sidewalks and medians, newly defined crosswalks and enhanced landscaping.
THE POWER OF TWO SECONDS
Kissinger and Vargas explained that in the final plan a concept called “the power of two seconds” will be implemented, which they expect will improve traffic conditions.
For every two seconds added to the duration of a green light, one more car per lane can be “pushed through.”
When two to 12 seconds are added, multiplied by the various lanes and the number of light cycles, which is 25 per hour, “you begin to have an exponential number of cars that you can push through an intersection just by changing some seconds,” said Kissinger.
Kissinger said the benefit of installing the delineators was that they simulated future road conditions without tearing up the asphalt, and allowed for a testing process. However, the delineators created a maze-like environment that was “confusing” and not conducive to good traffic flow.
The delineators caused drivers to slow down “a few miles per hour,” and, in terms of “the power of two seconds,” for each car that slowed down, another car didn’t get through the green light, and that’s why vehicles began to stack up, according to Kissinger. Removal of the delineators is expected to help ease the flow of traffic.
IMPROVING TRAVEL TIMES
Vargas presented updated travel-time comparisons for Atlantic Boulevard during the morning and afternoon peak periods, in both the eastbound and westbound directions, between NE 11th Avenue and NW 6th Avenue.
Vargas said the average travel time on Atlantic Boulevard in the eastbound direction between 7am and 9am was 5:12 minutes in October 2021, after the delineators were first installed.
After successive changes were made, the average travel time went to 4:30 minutes in December 2021 and 3:40 minutes in February 2022. There was no data available for the period before the installation of the delineators.
The average travel time on Atlantic Boulevard in the eastbound direction between 4pm and 6pm was 4:47 minutes in October 2021, 4:34 minutes in December 2021 and 4:26 minutes in February 2022. Data available for June 2019 showed an average travel time of 4:59 minutes.
“I think there is no question, and I think everybody has noted, that coming from I-95 going east, things are better than before,” said Vargas.
The average travel time on Atlantic Boulevard in the westbound direction between 7am and 9am was 3:47 minutes in October 2021, 4:48 minutes in December 2021 and 3:20 minutes in February 2022. There was no data available for the period prior to the installation of the delineators.
“In the morning in the westbound direction, we don’t see any significant issues,” said Vargas.
The problem is westbound traffic from Cypress Road to Dixie Highway during the afternoon peak period, he noted.
The average travel time on westbound Atlantic Boulevard between 4pm and 6pm was 9:30 minutes in October 2021, 9:30 minutes in December 2021 and 7:43 minutes in February 2022. Data available for June 2019 showed an average travel time of 3:03 minutes.
Vargas said that despite the decrease from October 2021 to February 2022, the travel time is “still not acceptable,” and “we believe that we will be able to fix this.”
Vargas noted that the last set of travel time runs was done in February, which is the “peak of the peak,” compared to the travel times taken in June, which is a low traffic volume period, “but we do recognize that there’s still some room for improvement.”
THE LAST PIECE OF THE PUZZLE (THE FIX)
Vargas outlined what will be done to bring “the last piece of the puzzle” – which is westbound Atlantic Boulevard from Cypress Road to Dixie Highway – to an “acceptable condition.”
The traffic pattern on Dixie Highway in both directions will essentially go back to the way it was before the installation of the delineators.
A second left-turn lane will be put back in place on northbound Dixie Highway for traffic turning west onto Atlantic Boulevard to go towards I-95.
A second left-turn lane will be put back in place on southbound Dixie Highway for traffic turning east onto Atlantic to go towards the beach.
A right-turn lane will be reinstated on southbound Dixie Highway for traffic turning west onto Atlantic Boulevard.
Vargas said the additional turn lanes will transfer between eight and 12 seconds of “green time” from Dixie Highway to Atlantic Boulevard, which will create a “significant improvement” on westbound Atlantic Boulevard, without degrading Dixie Highway.
“We need to make sure Dixie Highway stays at its current level; perhaps improve it a little bit more than it is today,” said Vargas.
The final design also includes additional improvements at Cypress Road and Atlantic Boulevard, such as lengthening turn lanes, to make travel times on eastbound Atlantic Boulevard “even better,” said Vargas.
Heading east on Atlantic Boulevard from I-95, there are currently three lanes all the way to Cypress Road, which will remain the same, said Vargas. The one left-turn lane onto north Dixie Highway from eastbound Atlantic Boulevard will also remain.
Other modifications made between October and December of last year will remain in place. The left-hand turn into SW 1st Avenue and the left-hand turn into NE 1st Avenue from Atlantic Boulevard were closed off, as well as the through lane, which has helped with clearing out traffic.
The left-hand turn onto Atlantic Boulevard from SW 1st Avenue and NE 1st Avenue was removed and is now right-turn only. The traffic signal at the intersection of 1st Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard has been programmed to remain green all the time, so the east-west traffic on Atlantic Boulevard won’t get stopped there. There will be no north-south traffic through the intersection, and the latest design shows a median in the middle of the intersection.
THE RESIDENTS VOICE THEIR CONCERNS
During the city commission meeting, nearly 30 members of the public spoke out strongly against the Atlantic Boulevard/Dixie Highway intersection project, voicing their concerns and frustrations for approximately 1.5 hours. A few people in the audience spoke in favor of the project.
A number of residents said they are worried about traffic that is diverting into residential neighborhoods and is traveling at high speeds, particularly in Old Pompano.
McMahon asked that, before the next city commission meeting, City staff come back with a traffic calming plan for Old Pompano, which lies within the district he represents. There have been issues of increased traffic and speed on Cypress Road as well.
Other concerns expressed by residents included emergency vehicles not being able to get through traffic and how traffic generated by future development, which includes plans for thousands of new residential units, will be accommodated.
One resident said that because many cars are taking the neighborhood streets to avoid the traffic on Atlantic Boulevard, the data collected for travel-run times is not accurate.
Another resident expressed concern that the final version of the plan will be built without testing it first.
AN ALTERNATIVE MOTION
Vice Mayor Beverly Perkins voted against McMahon’s motion to remove the delineators and made her own motion.
“Sitting here listening to the public and the residents, from my understanding, they see the vision that we have, but they’re not agreeing with it, based on the traffic and reducing the lanes,” said Perkins.
Perkins made a motion to scrap the project and have City staff figure out a different way to accomplish the goals without reducing the lanes. The motion failed in a 4:2 vote, with Perkins and Commissioner Cyndy Floyd casting the ‘yes’ votes.
THE MAYOR WEIGHS IN
“I said I wasn’t going to support this thing until it got better,” said Pompano Beach Mayor Rex Hardin. “But I am still confident that it will be much better than it even is today, with the changes we’re going to make, with getting rid of those poles, with actually doing the project.”
“If I had to choose a way to do a project, I probably would not have chosen the way we’ve gone about doing this,” said Hardin.
Hardin said he wasn’t “sitting here criticizing anybody,” but he thought motorists were put through “full-frontal assaults” and “absolute misery to start with.”
“We’ve created our own nightmare by doing what we did,” said Hardin, but it was better than “going out there and tearing up asphalt and then realizing that you need to change something, which is not a wise expenditure of the taxpayer dollars.”
“It’s not perfect, but we’re still tinkering with it before we tear up that asphalt,” said Hardin.
Hardin said he supported moving forward with the project because he thinks it will be transformative for the city, will bring more economic prosperity and will help change the slum and blight that exists in the northwest section.
CREATING A SAFER INTERSECTION
Vargas presented data documenting the number of crashes over the past three years on Atlantic Boulevard from NW 6th Avenue to NE 7th Avenue (122 crashes in 2021), and on Dixie Highway from SW 2nd Street to MLK Boulevard (27 crashes in 2021).
These sections of Atlantic Boulevard and Dixie Highway have almost twice the number of crashes as other similar intersections across the state, based on safety levels established by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), said Vargas.
“If we do some safety enhancements and bring those numbers down to where they should be, that is a significant safety improvement for this area,” said Vargas.
Vargas pointed out that children cross the Atlantic Boulevard/Dixie Highway intersection to get to school with the help of crossing guards. He noted that the pedestrian crossing on the west side of Dixie Highway that traverses Atlantic Boulevard from south to north is the longest crossing at the intersection.
“The improvements we’re doing are going to reduce that, which is going to make it much safer for pedestrians,” said Vargas.
HOW WILL THE PROJECT BE FUNDED?
The cost of the intersection project is still being finalized, but at the start of the pilot program, the estimate was roughly $23 million.
Money for the project will come from the Broward County Penny for Transportation Surtax fund, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) transfer funds, the Pompano Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and the city’s G.O. Bond.
The makeover of the intersection is part of the G.O Bond project to upgrade the Dixie Highway corridor from McNab Road to Sample Road, which has an estimated overall cost of approximately $58 million. In June 2020, the project was approved by the Broward County Commission for roughly $25 million of funding from the transportation surtax.