Heading to Fort Lauderdale beach could become less of a headache for airport visitors and others.
A $35 million-plus shortcut is proposed to and from the 17th Street Causeway. The bypass would allow northbound beach-goers on Federal Highway or others coming from the west on State Road 84 to avoid a congested section of Southeast 17th Street and its four traffic lights.
Instead, drivers could head east at the State Road 84-Spangler Boulevard intersection with U.S. 1 — the southern entrance into Port Everglades. The bypass would follow the fringes of the port and avoid the port’s security checkpoint. It would then curve north on Eisenhower Boulevard alongside the Broward County Convention Center and meet up with 17th Street.
Basically, the bypass would cut away from U.S. 1 and avoid the heavier traffic approaching 17th Street.
The plans are included in the proposal for expanding the Broward County Convention Center and building a convention center hotel. The bypass also could be used by people going to events at the convention center.
The hotel is planned to be at the southeast corner of 17th Street and Eisenhower Boulevard.
Seventeenth Street is one of the most traffic-clogged in the city, and Fort Lauderdale officials have demanded a bypass as part of the convention center plans to keep the congestion from getting worse.
“If you can have a parallel route that’s going to especially capture those folks coming from the south, I think we’re going to see a definite improvement on 17th Street,” said Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Ben Sorensen, who has been working with Broward Commissioner Tim Ryan and county officials to find an acceptable plan.
The bypass also would be a return to the days before 9/11, when people regularly traveled through the port to get to the beach. Port security checkpoints set up after 9/11 eliminated that route.
If approved by the city, the bypass could take three to four years to complete, Assistant County Administrator Alan Cohen said.
Currently, northbound drivers on Federal Highway heading to the beach have a single right-turn lane at 17th Street. The new bypass, in addition to missing four traffic signals on 17th, would have two right-turn lanes from Eisenhower Boulevard onto 17th for beach traffic.
Drivers leaving the beach would be able to turn left from 17th onto Eisenhower and proceed south on the bypass to reach the Federal Highway intersection with State Road 84.
“They have found a solution that satisfies the needs for a bypass road, but spares the neighborhood the additional through traffic,” said Harbordale resident Marilyn Mammano. “It accomplishes what we need to accomplish, to reduce the traffic on 17th Street.”
The bypass improvements also should reduce back-ups on 17th Street for people heading to the convention center and Port Everglades.
A major change is moving the security checkpoint for southbound traffic from 20th Street to Spangler Boulevard, giving more room on Eisenhower to stack up port traffic coming from 17th Street.
Also, fewer port visitors would have to stop their cars at the security checkpoint. The parking lot for Terminal 4 at 20th Street would no longer be behind the checkpoint, allowing visitors to pull in, park their cars and go through security at the terminal itself.
Portions of the bypass would be elevated and include bridges. At one point a decade ago, officials considered a completely elevated bypass.
To save money, the proposed bypass has portions at ground level, other portions elevated on dirt embankments and short portions with bridges.
Bridge construction is more expensive, Cohen said. The bridges also require support columns being pounded into the ground, which increases the potential that workers will come across contaminated soil that would raise costs even more, he said.
The bypass curve from Eisenhower Boulevard to Spangler Boulevard would be elevated, including an overpass, so as not to affect port traffic and other businesses on Spangler and Eisenhower boulevards. The bypass portion of the project would have one lane in each direction.
The new checkpoint for the port would be on Eisenhower just south of the bypass curve.