A plan to reduce Northeast 4 Avenue in Fort Lauderdale has given hope to those who want to see Wilton Drive go from four lanes to two.
Commissioners voted on Nov. 10 to apply to the Florida Department of Transportation [FDOT] to extend the narrowing Fort Lauderdale wants to do with Northeast 4 Avenue.
At various times throughout the past decade, residents and business owners have called upon the city to take ownership, enact the Two Lane Initiative and reduce the number of lanes on Wilton Drive. The Two Lane Initiative would redesign the street to more closely resemble Las Olas Boulevard with landscaping and trees in the medians and only one dedicated travel lane each way.
Commissioners have resisted though, mainly because of the estimated cost – FDOT approximates it could cost as much as $500,000 to reconfigure the street into two lanes and up to $85,000 to maintain it. But now, the street could be reduced without significant cost to the city.
The possibility of not having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars has commissioners hopeful but cautions. At their meeting, they stressed the city was only applying to piggy back onto Fort Lauderdale’s project.
“It’s not going to get pushed through,” said Vice Mayor Scott Newton.
The real decision, they said, will come when they learn how much it will cost and after the public has had plenty of opportunity to review the project. Mayor Gary Resnick promised public hearings and suggested a referendum to ensure the public has a chance to speak out.
Even if approved tomorrow, city officials said the design phase wouldn’t start until 2016-2017 and it would be years before everything was finished. “Some of you who are young will live to see this,” joked Commissioner Tom Green.
On a serious note, Green said the city would have to be very careful about how a change to the road would impact traffic at the Five Points end. The change could create a bottleneck at the intersection. The problem could be even worse with the planned addition of commuter trains along the railroad tracks at Five Points.
City Manager Leigh Ann Henderson said that if FDOT approves the request the Metropolitan Planning Organization would help the city apply for grants.
“Let’s get on with it,” said Father John Joseph Reid who compared Wilton Drive to a speedway. Paul Rolli, president of the Central Area Neighborhood Association, also supports the Two Lane Initiative. “The city will grow around it.”
Resident Doug Blevins, chair of the Wilton Drive Business Improvement District board, said narrowing the street would improve public safety.
But not everyone who spoke at the meeting was in favor.
Resident Boyd Corbin said the project would be extremely expensive and unrealistic.
Resident Paul Kuta called the city’s support for Fort Lauderdale a “back-door, secretive attempt to narrow Wilton Drive without even a public hearing.”
Whether two lanes or four, FDOT is already making changes to Wilton Drive.
Vice Mayor Scott Newton said the new pedestrian light signal at Northeast 20 Street would be fully functional by April.
But Green warned people they still need to exercise caution and make sure traffic stops. “Push the button and be careful.”
When the crossing is finished, Resnick said there would be two pedestrian crossings in that area of Wilton Drive. “At city hall, they’re leaving the existing light up.”