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County mayor thinks tunnel could be solution to downtown West Palm Beach traffic congestion

Between 56,000 vehicles along Okeechobee Boulevard, 87 weekday trains and seemingly endless construction, drivers seek relief navigating downtown traffic
Tri-Rail train and construction cones along Banyan Boulevard in downtown West Palm Beach in September 2022
Posted at 9:51 PM, Sep 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-19 21:54:52-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Commuters, cars, construction and a lot of congestion are a common occurrence in downtown West Palm Beach.

For tens of thousands of commuters, getting in and out of downtown West Palm Beach during rush hour can be stressful.

Alyce Carrelli's commute to her job at a law firm in downtown requires patience and a little bit of creativity.

"This is definitely not a sleepy town anymore," Carrelli said during her morning drive. "This is like New York now."

To avoid getting caught in traffic along Okeechobee Boulevard, Carrelli said she uses alternate routes, including Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and Belvedere Road.

Alyce Carrelli stuck in downtown West Palm Beach traffic
Alyce Carrelli waits in downtown West Palm Beach traffic, which leads to a lot frustration for drivers.

"So many people moved down here," she said.  

The volume of vehicles on Okeechobee Boulevard leading in and out of downtown West Palm Beach has actually decreased by about 10% since 2010.

On average, more than 56,000 vehicles traverse the roadway, according to the most recent numbers from the Florida Department of Transportation. 

Numbers also provided to Contact 5 show more than 87 weekday train trips between both sets of downtown rails.

565,000 vehicles on average traveled Okeechobee Boulevard in downtown West Palm Beach in 2021
More than 56,000 vehicles travel Okeechobee Boulevard in downtown West Palm Beach, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

"The volume of the cars certainly is contributing to congestion, but I think the real issue is that the trains are just stopping traffic," Palm Beach County Mayor Robert Weinroth said. 

Weinroth thinks he might have a possible solution to the traffic – a tunnel.   

"We want people to use their own private passenger vehicles and be able to move commercial vehicles through these tunnels," Weinroth said. "You'd be coming in under the FEC tracks. You'd come out under the CSX tracks."     

Weinroth said his inspiration comes from a trip to Las Vegas when he took a ride inside a tunnel constructed by Elon Musk's Boring Company. A feasibility study is needed and the potential cost and funding are unknown at the moment.   

"Ultimately, this would be a great way of making more land available on street level for a park or other development and be able to move the traffic more efficiently," he said. "People are calling us 'Wall Street South,' and so we don't want the traffic to be a reason why people shun our city or county."

Palm Beach County Mayor Robert Weinroth thinks tunnel could be solution to downtown West Palm Beach congestion
Palm Beach County Mayor Robert Weinroth thinks a tunnel could be a possible solution to the downtown West Palm Beach traffic congestion.

Valerie Neilson, executive director of the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency, is working on the traffic troubles as well and looking at what can be done to improve the flow of traffic.  

"We're looking at potential solutions," she said. "We're trying to work with all the partners on that and looking at all modes of transportation, trying to improve alternatives to get in and out of downtown."

But the headaches don't stop on Okeechobee Boulevard. The city of West Palm Beach's streetscape project has added time onto commutes as well.

MORE: Downtown West Palm Beach drivers douped by detour to nowhere

"It takes about 20 minutes to a half-hour just to get down Banyan (Boulevard) these days," Carrelli said.

Despite new development along or near Banyan Boulevard, the city believes "there will be immediate traffic flow improvements" once the road project is finished in December, with two lanes in each direction.

Tri-Rail train stops traffic on Banyan Boulevard in downtown West Palm Beach in September 2022
A Tri-Rail train stops traffic on Banyan Boulevard, which is undergoing construction, in downtown West Palm Beach in September 2022.

City leaders are also hopeful that a historic number of residential units in the city will "spur more people to live and work downtown," reducing vehicular commutes.

Assistant City Manager Armando Fana told Contact 5 the city is working with state partners to open a crossing along Fern Street to allow for additional east-west access into downtown West Palm Beach from Australian Avenue.

"They have to figure something out to get us in a little faster," Carrelli said.

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