The Palm Coast City Council this morning approved an engineering contract for the first phase of what will be a three-phase, 7-mile beltway connecting Matanzas Woods Parkway and Palm Coast Parkway west of U.S. 1. The ambitious road incursion through 12,000 acres of empty wilds in West Palm Coast would open that part of the city to development while cutting a north-south artery parallel to Belle Terre Parkway.
The council approved a $5.7 million contract with Jacksonville-based England, Thims & Miller for the final design and permitting for Phase 1, including roadway lighting, extension of the city’s broadband network, a traffic signal at Matanzas Village Avenue and Parkgate Boulevard, and the
northern bridge crossing of the FEC Railroad that the city is calling a “flyover.” The contract also includes the final design of the southern bridge crossing over the FEC Railroad, to Palm Coast Parkway.
“Due to several factors the city identified the western extension as its first priority due to its close proximity to U.S. 1, the connection to I-95, and it has fewer environmental constraints than some of the other areas,” Carl Cote, the city’s construction and engineering director, said.
This month the city secured $25 million in a legislative appropriation for construction of Phase 1.
The project will be a four-lane divided roadway with curb and gutter, with allowances for six-laning in the future. The bridge over both FEC crossings will be six lanes, and the storm water collection system and treatment ponds will be designed as if for a six-lane highway.
It will be ETM’s responsibility to provide the city with a construction cost estimate for the entirety of the 7-mile project and all its ramifications, including rights-of-way acquisition costs, wetlands mitigation costs and FPL costs, by the end of this year. ETM will also be responsible for the environmental assessment, which will include an analysis of the project’s potential impact on historical sites in the area.
The design is currently halfway complete for the 0.6-mile portion of the initial extension of Matanzas Woods Parkway, where the rights-of-way have almost all been obtained. But there’s a lot more to do.
Among the challenges: the city has to obtain approvals from the Florida East Coast railroad, whose rails cut north and south just west of U.S. 1. “That is a long process but with DOT’s coordination and support behind us,” Cote said, referring to the state Department of Transportation, “they are 100 percent committed to assisting us in moving through that process smoothly.”
The city’s goal is to start construction in 2024 on the initial phase. But most of the rights-of-way along the 7 miles have yet to be acquired, and the wetlands have yet to be identified, though a recent Supreme Court decision allowing for a much easier obliteration of wetlands will make that easier.
The council has previously contracted with ETM to analyze extensions of Whiteview Parkway, Royal Palms Parkway, and Palm Coast Parkway west of U.S. 1. ETM was the county’s contractor on the Matanzas Woods interchange with I-95, which broke ground in May 2015 and opened to traffic in March 2016.
Totaling $55 million, Palm Coast’s legislative appropriations this spring beat the city’s expectations and accelerated its aggressive plans–what Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin is mapping out as his legacy–to conquer west Palm Coast with roads, rooftops and taxpayers. The city intends to seek further appropriations as it takes advantage of Rep. Paul Renner, Flagler County’s representative, who happens to be the House speaker for one more year–a powerfully lucrative position for the city and the county.
The full cost of the 7-mile beltway is unknown. “Phase two will be determined based on how much state funding we get in the next request,” Cote said, betraying some of that city confidence in the Renner effect. “So how much more money we need will will depend on how far we can take the project.”
For now, the city is using its own transportation impact fees to pay for the engineering contract. Once ETM has estimated the cost of the entire project, the administration will return to the council after bidding out construction of the first phase.
As Cote described the project to the council this morning, he noted that ETM will not be responsible for the acquisition of conservation releases: that’s the city’s responsibility. But the city’s westward expansion so far has tended to focus on its more triumphal potentials for development rather than on its conservation challenges.
“I appreciate you referencing the conservation because it is one of my concerns,” Council member Theresa Pontieri said. Referring to the land manager in county government, she continued: “I hope that we’re working with Mike Lagasse on that. There’s obviously some really important components out there that we need to make sure we’re keeping an eye on.”
Pontieri was also concerned about the missing regulatory approvals, including those from the railroad. She did not see those issues getting resolved within the current scope of the proposed contract, and wanted to ensure that the ETM contract had built-in extensions. “That seems like a pretty big project and I just want to make sure we’re protected,” she said.
“I’ve been keeping a close watch on every detail for the last several years on this,” Alfin told Cote, “so I feel comfortable and confident that you are moving this forward in the right direction.”