Progress on helidpad construction to ease traffic during Trump visits

Construction could start in March
Posted at 7:15 PM, Feb 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-11 09:58:22-05

As President Donald Trump's motorcade drove from the airport to the Winter White House Friday evening, the town of Palm Beach tested out their new guidelines to handle traffic from the road closures and blockades.

The town hopes people will try to keep the streets clear during these visits but another plan to help out drivers is just months away from completion.

The town says permits could be finalized as early as mid-February on a helipad at Mar-a-Lago, with construction starting in March. Marine One would bring president Trump straight to his home from PBIA, without the motorcade putting a strain on traffic.

Rick Gonzalez with REG Architects, the firm that designed Mar-a-Lago estate, is coming back to his roots.

"We've been president Trump's architects for 22 years," he said in an interview with WPTV.

He's carefully designing and planning out a new helipad at the home.

"The Marines and the president's office showed us sketches of where they wanted to locate it," he said.

Gonzalez said the helipad will be built on the west side of the property, clear of trees.

"And very close to a service driveway, so once the helicopter lands, the president and whoever is visiting can get off the pad and walk to the driveway," he said.

But those who live near Mar-a-Lago are worried about noise and safety.

"Hurricane force winds emit from these helicopters so you don't want them too close to residential area," said nearby neighbor Brad Gary.

Gary has seen his share of political traffic, having lived and worked in Washington, D.C. for 30 years.

"I worked for senator dole and did security for him, including his air transport arrangements," he said.

So he and other neighbors want president trump's helipad to be built on Mar-a-Lago's beach.

"And then he's got a pedestrian tunnel actually that goes under the road to Mar-a-Lago so he can just walk right to his house," he said.

The idea is similar to former president Richard Nixon's helipad near Miami at Key Biscayne.

"Residents at Key Biscayne objected to the noise and intrusion of the helicopter landings, way back in the Nixon years, so they asked the president and the secret service -- the government built this," said Gary.

But Palm Beach councilwoman Maggie Zeidman said as much as the town is open to the idea, their hands are tied.

"Because it's really the Secret Service. When you're talking about the helicopters, that's the military. And right now, what they have asked us for is a helipad on the property of Mar-a-Lago," she said.

Gonzalez says the secret service unfortunately won't allow it.

"To put it on the ocean side here with hurricanes would not be feasible," he said.

But he added there is hundreds of feet of buffer zone from homes.

"Eighteen acres is a significant sized property on Palm Beach. We're fortunate Mar-a-Lago is that size because it accommodates all the different things we've built over the years," he said.

But neighbors still have hope for another option.

"It's just not a slam dunk how you do these things -- a lot of people involved. But we wanted to put our perspective in that we thought the residents needed an acceptable way to manage the trump traffic situation," said Gary.

Meanwhile, crews have tedious work ahead of them to handle the twelve ton Marine One.

"The concrete slab will have steel -- it's pretty thick. Pipes have to be moved out of the way, the dirt has to be stabilized," said Gonzalez.

We also found out there may be 12 ton decoy choppers using the helipad as well.

"Not just one. There are other helicopters of the same size that come in with the president," said Zeidman.

As far as who pays for it, thank the U.S. government and your wallet.

"The United States tax payers, all of us, we paid for that.  But we do that for the protection of the president," added Zeidman.

Police stress that the helipad won't solve all the traffic problems because the road blocks and closures will still remain in effect around Trump's home. While the helipad is still months away from completion, town leaders ask for patience.

"We are doing what we can and as we roll along with this, we will continue to adjust and do whatever else we need to do when we identify it," said Zeidman.

The National Registry of Historic Homes has approved the project, but they have one more approval to wait on by the local Landmark Commission.

"The town did reach out yesterday to Mar-a-Lago to say we're ready to work with you and expedite this permitting process," said Zeidman.