BOCA RATON—It's a clash of religion and ramps. Florida's Turnpike officials say Palmetto Park Road is the best location for a $119 million SunPass interchange to relieve bottlenecks at the Glades Road toll plaza.
But residents who live near the road say officials have overlooked the impact that an interchange would have on West Boca's community of Orthodox Jews concentrated along Palmetto Park, who walk on the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays.
The proposed interchange is part of a larger study to widen 10 miles of the turnpike in the densely populated corridor in north Broward County and south Palm Beach County, where access to the turnpike is limited.
The Glades exit is overloaded with traffic because it is the only full turnpike interchange in a 12-mile stretch between Sample Road in Broward and Atlantic Avenue, west of Delray Beach.
A half interchange connects the turnpike and the Sawgrass in Deerfield Beach, but there are no ramps to Southwest 10th Street.
Turnpike officials say Southwest 10th Street can't handle turnpike traffic unless it is upgraded to an expressway, which Broward County officials refuse to allow. So the search for a new interchange has focused on locations west of Boca Raton.
Palmetto Park Road is the ideal choice, according to turnpike officials, because almost two-thirds of the traffic using the Glades Road exit is headed to and coming from the south.
Putting an exit north of Glades wouldn't help those drivers as much, officials say.
Ken Bender, who lives in one of the neighborhoods along Palmetto Park Road east of the turnpike, disagrees.
"No one is denying the congestion at Glades. But what the turnpike is proposing isn't going to help," Bender said. "Why would somebody exit the turnpike a mile south of Glades when they are heading north of or east on Glades Road to the old IBM or Broken Sound commercial properties, Office Depot or FAU. All you're going to do is congest the local roads."
While turnpike officials say an interchange at Palmetto Park would have a "low impact" on surrounding neighborhoods, Bender said that might have been true 20 years ago but not today.
"There is a steady stream of pedestrian traffic from Friday night to Saturday night, by those who observe the Jewish Sabbath and do not drive. The same holds true for Jewish holidays, which can occur on any day of the week," Bender said.
The other options being considered include a full interchange at Yamato Road; a full interchange at Clint Moore Road; and a split interchange with northbound exit and southbound entrance ramps at Palmetto Park and northbound entrance and southbound exit ramps at Yamato.
Yamato is too close to the existing ramps at Glades, said turnpike project manager Henry Pinzon.
On the northbound turnpike, the entrance ramp from Glades Road would conflict with an exit ramp to Yamato.
Pinzon said Clint Moore won't work for three reasons: It's too far north. The ramps would have to be built "at grade," because the turnpike passes over Clint Moore, requiring relocation of canals that parallel the turnpike. Plus, Clint Moore doesn't have an interchange at I-95.
A public hearing will be held in September.
Construction hasn't been scheduled because there is no funding.
Palm Beach County planners say the project could be funded through a new pot of stimulus money available for transportation, or with money left over from the upcoming Lake Worth interchange reconstruction. Bids for the Lake Worth project came in $13 million under the construction estimate.
Pinzon said neither option will work because "there is no project. We haven't had the public hearing yet."
If it gets built, the Palmetto Park exit would look more like those on Interstate 95 from Hollywood to Miami, not older turnpike interchanges with curving ramps that funnel traffic into a single toll plaza.
Ramps would be built on retaining walls, rising from the turnpike to the Palmetto Park overpass where they would be controlled by traffic signals. Tolls would be collected electronically with SunPass via overhead sensors, eliminating the need for toll booths.
Michael Turnbell can be reached at email@example.com, 954-356-4155, 561-243-6550 or on Twitter @MikeTurnpike.