A standing-room-only crowd of local residents packed the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall Tuesday night, with many attendees voicing their opposition to the key recommendations included in a new Ponte Vedra Palm Valley traffic study.
Organized by the Citizens Traffic Task Force (CTTF) to present the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization’s (NFTPO) draft recommendations, the meeting began with an open house from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., during which attendees could watch a brief video summarizing the study’s highlights, view blown-up photos of key intersections, ask questions and submit comments. That was followed by a formal presentation by NFTPO staff, who reviewed the report’s key recommendations, which include widening portions of A1A to six lanes, adding a westbound off-ramp from the Palm Valley bridge to Roscoe Boulevard and replacing the Mickler roundabout with a signaled intersection.
While the meeting was the first formal presentation of the study’s findings, it was clear from the public comments period that many of those in attendance had already read the report’s recommendations and were there to express their opposition, particularly to any talk of widening A1A or Mickler Road.
“If they build it, they will come and I’m afraid if we make them wider, whoever is making a pathway through Ponte Vedra will only be encouraged by this,” said Lee Gaul, a longtime Ponte Vedra resident who teaches at Ponte Vedra High School. “It seems to me the people at that roundabout – that long line in the morning – are not people who live here. They’re not even people who work here. They are people who are cutting through here.
“We keep talking about what a great community we have,” Gaul continued. “That’s because it doesn’t look like Beach Boulevard. Why are we going to try to make it look like that?”
Odom’s Mill resident Mario Dipola also expressed his opposition to removing the Mickler roundabout, which he said does a good job of keeping traffic moving.
“It’s like the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney,” Dipola said. “The line never stops.”
Throughout the course of the open house and formal meeting, attendees expressed the belief that rampant development has caused Ponte Vedra’s traffic woes, with one word repeated numerous times: Nocatee.
At the start of the public comment section, Tonie Laliberte asked why a road couldn’t be built west of the Intracoastal Waterway that would connect JTB to Nocatee, drawing a loud and sustained round of applause from the overflow audience.
“That may be easier said than done,” Laliberte acknowledged. “The folks that own that right of way that would alleviate the congestion are also the folks that have profited handsomely from the Nocatee development itself. We have a great community – Nocatee is also a great community. I think we can find a solution that we can all live with here. But I’d like to knock on the Davis Family to see what they can come up with.”
CTTF board member Greg Leonard suggested, however, that Ponte Vedra’s traffic problems are more complex and deep rooted than the development of the relatively new Nocatee community.
“We have a perfect storm of growth factors, and Nocatee is just one of them,” Leonard told The Recorder.
Leonard noted that in the past three decades, the county’s population has skyrocketed 400 percent while Ponte Vedra’s demographics have shifted from primarily retired couples to families with young children, putting more cars on the road.
“There’s a whole litany of factors that, when taken together, have created the difficulties we’re experiencing,” Leonard said.
While those who spoke at the meeting expressed opposition to widening roads and replacing the roundabout, most acknowledged that Ponte Vedra has traffic issues that need to be addressed. Several residents described the difficulty they currently have entering and exiting neighborhoods located along A1A, such as Fairfield, Sawgrass Country Club and the Avalon neighborhood located near the on ramp to JTB.
“Cars are just flying by,” said Michael Switkes, an Avalon resident and president of the Ponte Vedra Community Association.
Making A1A three lanes along that stretch without adding a stoplight, Switkes fears, would only exacerbate the problem and encourage drivers to go faster.
“They just built 28 houses in my neighborhood,” he said. “They need to slow people down, not make it three lanes.”
Resident Kathy Buttner, meanwhile, noted that prior to moving to Ponte Vedra, she had lived in Long Island, Boston and California.
“I spent a big percentage of my life sitting in traffic,” she said. “I felt safer driving in those places than here, with all the tailgating. I saw three cars in a row texting while driving over the Palm Valley bridge.”
Despite the negative reception to many of the traffic study’s recommendations, meeting attendees thanked both NFTPO and CTTF representatives for the time they had invested in studying the issue. Residents also offered their own suggestions for addressing local traffic woes, including enforcing the speed limit on A1A, installing a traffic light at the entrance to Fairfield and the Sawgrass Country Club south gate and – the most popular suggestion with attendees – building a north-south road on the western side of the Palm Valley bridge that connects to JTB.
NFTPO and CTTF representatives stressed that Tuesday’s meeting was merely the latest step in a process that has many hurdles to clear before any recommendations are approved, funded and ultimately implemented. Leonard said the next step will be for the CTTF board to meet next week to review the feedback garnered at Tuesday’s meeting and share it with NFTPO. Once the draft study report is updated to reflect community input, funding would need to be obtained to finance the traffic improvements and secure any necessary rights of way before construction could begin.
CTTF also stressed that the task force was not there to advocate for the draft report’s recommendations, but instead to serve as a communications resource, distributing information and actively seeking widespread community input.
“We’re certainly not here to propose or encourage one outcome,” Leonard said. “Ultimately, our goal is to reach into the community and get broad feedback about what type of change we are willing to tolerate in order to keep this community viable for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.”
A copy of the complete Ponte Vedra Palm Valley Traffic Study is available online at http://northfloridatpo.com and at the Ponte Vedra Beach Branch Public Library. Comments may be submitted to Planning Director Denise Bunnewith via email at email@example.com or by mail to Denise Bunnewith, North Florida TPO, 980 N. Jefferson St., Jacksonville, FL 32209. All comments must be postmarked by May 9 to be included in the official record.