Three days of traffic jams loom as FEC plans to shut down crossing on Broward Boulevard

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David Lyons, South Florida Sun Sentinel
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Downtown Fort Lauderdale commuters should get ready for gridlock: Starting Tuesday, the Florida East Coast Railway intends to temporarily shut its Broward Boulevard rail crossing for repairs.

Flabbergasted city and county officials are not on board. At the height of the tourist season, it’s hardly the opportune time to be closing a major city traffic artery, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said Friday.

“Whoever came up with this idea to repair the tracks or the crossing in the middle of week and the high season clearly did not think this through,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel by phone. “What concerns me most is we only found out about it anecdotally yesterday.”

Trantalis said he was in the middle of a meeting that included Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry when word of the closing came unexpectedly from the Florida Department of Transportation.

“Our jaws dropped. We sat there in disbelief,” he said. “No one consulted with us as to how best to reroute traffic.”

Next week’s scheduled crossing closure at West Broward Boulevard just east of NW 2nd Avenue is scheduled start at 6 a.m. Tuesday and last through at least 11:59 p.m. Thursday, according to an FDOT statement.

“If necessary, to complete the scheduled work, this closure will extend to Friday, April 16 .... at 11:59 p.m., the agency said in a statement.

Henry did not respond to an email message seeking comment. Spokesmen for the railroad and the FDOT in Fort Lauderdale did not respond to telephoned and email messages left at their offices.

But the concerns are obvious: Besides snarled traffic, critical delays are possible for emergency police, fire and medical services, as well as the county’s bus service. Broward County Transit’s central bus terminal is adjacent to the boulevard on the east side of the tracks.

A Brightline rail station sits on the west side, but there is somewhat of a silver lining. The high-speed railroad suspended service in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FEC, which hauls freight, and Brightline share the rail line, which stretches from Jacksonville to Miami.

“We are all trying to contact the FDOT to try to find out who is in charge,” Trantalis said. “You can’t put thousands of cars on narrow side streets and expect the traffic flow to not be frustrated. We are doing our best to direct our efforts to the state and find out how to postpone this.”

“There is no reason why it cannot be done during the summer, when there is less traffic and schools are on vacation,” Trantalis added.

In the event the city and county fail to force a change in plans, these are the circuitous detour routes:

Westbound traffic on Broward Boulevard will be directed to turn right or north onto South Andrews Avenue. At NW 6th Street, traffic will be directed to turn left (west) over the tracks to NW 7th Avenue, then south until drivers return to Broward Boulevard and resume their trips west.

Eastbound traffic headed toward downtown will be directed to turn left or north onto NW 7th Avenue, At NW 6th Street, traffic will be directed to turn right or east to South Andrews, and then south so they can return to the boulevard.

In an email message late Friday, Fort Lauderdale City Manager Chris Lagerbloom said attempts to reschedule the closure were “met with complete resistance” from the railroad.

“In the future, we expect there to be more thought and coordination when contemplating the closing of a major thoroughfare in our city,” he said. “This work will make a mess of our downtown next week, and I want the public to know we did everything we could to have it rescheduled.”