PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Commuters on St. Lucie West Boulevard in Port St. Lucie call the start of their drive a mess.
James Rich often leaves before sunrise for his daily commute to his job in Riviera Beach.
"Traffic has just increased exponentially in the last five years," he said.
Rich has lived at his Port St. Lucie home for more than 20 years.
"It takes longer to get to work," he said.
Rich let Contact 5 ride along with him on a Monday commute, and less than a mile after leaving his home, he ran into heavy traffic, the result, in part, of parents dropping off their kids at the Renaissance Charter School.
"This school, this close to the intersection at this time of the morning, has really put a challenge on the roadway," Rich noted.
A quarter mile away, Rich turned his Audi on St. Lucie West Boulevard.
"This is the beginning of really the worst part of it," Rich said as he headed toward Interstate 95. "It will back up from here."
It was a backup at rush hour, but people here said it's busy all day.
The Florida Department of Transportation's traffic counts shows 48,500 cars and trucks drive on St. Lucie West Boulevard every day.
The stretch of Florida's Turnpike that passes under the boulevard has 38,700 vehicles daily, so an east-west road that wasn't built until the late 1980s has significantly more traffic than the turnpike in that part St. Lucie County.
"It's the price of growth," Port St. Lucie Mayor Shannon Martin said. "But it's also the price of proper planning for a city that was never properly planned."
Martin said developers didn't plan for traffic tie ups when building Port St. Lucie to be a bedroom community for seniors. She calls the solutions a "retrofit."
Road crews are widening St. Lucie West Boulevard and Port St. Lucie Boulevard – the city's two busiest roadways – to ease the traffic crunch for the time being.
"You still have a lot more people moving to Port St. Lucie than, you know, ever before," Martin said. "And as long as that continues, we're going to have to keep doing our very best to keep up with it."
Keeping up may not be easy.
Let's look at Port St. Lucie's remarkable population growth. Take a look at these population figures from 1970 to 2021. This opened my eyes. — Author's Note
Port St. Lucie's Planning and Zoning Department reports the city approved construction for almost 50,000 new homes. Many are expected to be built soon, bringing more people and more traffic.
"People keep coming here," Rich said with a chuckle. "That's the problem."
But he's serious when his drive home sees the I-95 northbound off-ramp at St. Lucie West Boulevard back up to the interstate.
"It's more of a traffic hazard, getting off 95 at 5:30, 6 o'clock, because you're going 60, 70 mph or more down to stopped traffic in a right lane," Rich said. "Extremely dangerous."
But Rich has no plans to move or change jobs. He's hopeful the city's traffic infrastructure will catch up to Port St. Lucie's population boom.
"Sooner the better," he added.