OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County commissioners Thursday agreed to add the option of a traffic roundabout at the intersection of Martin County Road 714 (aka Martin Grade) and State Road 710, if the Florida Department of Transportation realigns CR 714.
The realignment will take part of CR 714 into Okeechobee County to come out opposite Okeechobee County Road 15B.
The commissioners previously agreed to accept the responsibility for maintenance for the part of the realigned CR 714 in Okeechobee County, only if FDOT agrees to install a fully signalized traffic light at the intersection.
At the commission’s Sept. 19 meeting, FDOT Director of Transportation Development John Kulber asked the county to remove the traffic light stipulation from their agreement to accept road maintenance. Mr. Kubler said FDOT will conduct a traffic study in the fall of 2021. They will collect traffic data and traffic counts. They will also analyze the crash data, he explained. The study may find a fully operational stoplight is warranted or a stop sign is warranted. It could even say a traffic roundabout is warranted, he continued.
He said the realignment project will cost around $3 million and is planned in conjunction with some other projects. FDOT tries to combine projects when they go out for bids in order to cut costs, he said. Putting the signal requirement in the agreement could delay the project, because they would have to do the traffic study first.
“It takes 18 to 24 months to buy the right of way and follow the processes,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to come back later and add a half a million signal job,” he explained.
Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said aligning CR 714 with CR 15B could make the intersection with SR 710 more dangerous without something to control the flow of traffic there.
“When you put a stop sign and they can go all the way across either direction, that scares me, especially with the trucks,” he said. “The way it is now is safer than the alternative with a stop sign.
“If we approve this, and we don’t know the future, what that is going to require, that is a little disconcerting,” he said. He added that he would not oppose a roundabout at that intersection because it would slow down the traffic.
Commissioner David Hazellief said FDOT has refused to put traffic lights at other intersections the county officials deem dangerous. “On Berman Road and SR 70 we have asked a thousand times for a traffic light there,” he said. “We have been told it won’t meet the requirements.” He said he is also concerned about the funding if the light is not put in at the same time as the realignment project.
“If it is going to be paid for, it needs to be paid for with the federal aid while they are building the road,” he said. “Otherwise, Okeechobee is going to pick up the tab. It will come out of Okeechobee’s allotment.
“If we don’t stand tall and say ‘signalization or nothing,’ we’ll never get it,” said Commissioner Hazellief. He added he is not opposed to a roundabout after reviewing the information on the Haines City roundabout, which handles a lot of truck traffic.
Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said there is a lot of commuter traffic on CR 714 and a lot of trucks use CR 15B. What seems like common sense to local officials may not meet the standards of an FDOT traffic analysis, he added.
Commissioner Brad Goodbread said the realignment would make CR 714 a safer road. “I know that one curve is really a problem,” he said. He said it is a worthwhile project even without the addition of a full traffic signal. “You can’t make FDOT do anything,” he said. “I do think it would be good to soften that curve where you don’t have a 90 degree turn there.”
Mr. Goodbread said semis do not use CR 714 because the two lane, tree-lined roadway not safe for big trucks. “I don’t allow my trucks to go down that road,” he said. It has no shoulder. If you just have one little thing go wrong, then your truck is going to pile into a ditch or those trees.
“We have to weigh, as commissioners, the safety as we see it,” said Commissioner Kelly Owens. “I think that Martin County commissioners are looking at the safety of that turn. Once it is realigned and is coming out on 710, that is a big safety issue for us.
“Because of previous situations, we’re looking at trying to be sure that we’re looking out for the safety of our constituents and people who are on our roads,” she said.
The motion to add the option of a roundabout passed 3-2 with Commissioners Owens and Goodbread in opposition. The county commissioners agreed to accept the portion of realigned CR 714 that falls within Okeechobee County for maintenance if the project includes either full signalization or a roundabout.