Homeowners along the scenic drive want to meet with county staff to plan long-term traffic and safety solutions

FORT PIERCE – Homeowners along the county’s most scenic and popular drive begged the St. Lucie County Commission June 16 for help dealing with speeding drivers using the historic roadway as an alternate to traffic-signal-clogged U.S. 1.

Speeders are nothing new to those who live along Indian River Drive, a roadway designated a Florida Scenic Highway for its gorgeous vistas of the Indian River and sometimes hilly curves atop the Atlantic Ridge. Neither are fatalities. Early in the morning following the meeting, a 29-year-old Port St. Lucie man died when his 2006 Honda left the road just north of Midway Road. Another Port St. Lucie man, Zachary Monreal, 30, died last Jan. 16 after losing control of his motorcycle early that morning and hitting an oncoming vehicle. The worst period for the roadway was a three-week span in 2013 when three people lost their lives, including Port St. Lucie mailman Juan Carlos Riestra, killed while delivering mail just north of Walton Road.

Indian River Drive resident Jackie Fitzpatrick expressed frustration that members of the Commission had not been more responsive to her prior email inquiries about setting up a meeting with neighborhood residents. Two members, Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky and Chairwoman Cathy Townsend, did finally respond, however.

“I took your advice and emailed each of you individually, and I have to admit I’m a little bit disappointed in the response time and the lack thereof,” she told Commissioner Dzadovsky. “I think my expectations may have been a little too high for what you guys currently have going on. I want to know what is the proper expectation with regard to response time and the length of time something like this may take.”

During her comments, Ms. Fitzpatrick made reference to the improvements recommended by a 2018 traffic feasibility study conducted by Kimley Horn on the 13.7-mile section of the road that passes through unincorporated St. Lucie County, none of which have been undertaken.

“I did read all 54 pages of it,” She said, as Commissioner Dzadovsky chuckled on the dais. “While Kimley Horn made some phenomenal recommendations, there are some that don’t make sense for the road. What I wanted to know today is how do we develop more of a collaborative approach between you Mr. Dzadovsky, those of us who live on the Drive and Kimley-Horn so we can get on the same page?”

Chairwoman Townsend then explained that commissioners from the dais don’t normally respond to public speakers under public meeting protocol but that she’d make an exception since Ms. Fitzpatrick was new to the process.

“Generally, under public comment from the dais we don’t engage in conversation, but it’s only fair for him to go ahead and do this,” she said.

Commissioner Dzadovsky then explained that her email request had coincided with severe area flooding that prevented members of the county’s Engineering and Road and Bridge departments from responding in a timely manner.

“When we last emailed back and forth, I sent emails to the staff, and this was during the 15 inches of rain over the two-week period,” he said. “So, everybody was obviously focused on other things, along with two wash-outs on Indian River Drive. You said you could actually set up a Zoom [meeting], so that is where I think it has to go until we can figure out how we can have an in-person meeting with the social distancing and some of the other elements because you’re asking for a lot of people to be in the room.”

Ms. Fitzpatrick was then followed by Indian River Drive homeowner Dan Divan who said he also disagreed with the results of the Kimley Horn study.

“It puts additional restrictions and burdens on Indian River Drive itself, it takes away from the Scenic Highway [designation] and takes away from the community that is necessary between Martin and St. Lucie counties,” he said. “So, we need a longer-range plan and a bigger plan than a stop sign here and a stop sign there. It needs to go further.”

Mr. Divan was referring to the two new stop signs recently installed at the intersection of Indian River Drive and Walton Road. County Engineer Don West said last February that St. Lucie County spent $16,000 on that intersection and would consider doing the same for Midway Road in the future if the Walton Road signs succeed in slowing down traffic. The county also painted double-yellow lines along the entire stretch to discourage passing. Some 4,000 to 5,000 vehicles use Indian River Drive a day, and Sheriff Ken Mascara has admitted in the past to posting deputies “during rush hour for weeks at a time” along the roadway. The tickets they write, however, only slow drivers temporarily.

“We come back two weeks later and they’re speeding still,” he said.

Mr. Divan lauded St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office deputies for responding to issues promptly but insisted the property taxes paid by homeowners along Indian River Drive should be enough for more tangible improvements.

“There are people paying taxes down there that I can’t even fathom, and we get nothing,” he bemoaned. “We pay the highest taxes in the county out there. We get the Sheriff who responds really fast to accidents – there’s lots of accidents out there, lots of going right off the edge – it’s just insanity. We can’t use that narrow, outdated road for a commuter line.”

The City of Fort Pierce has also dealt with complaints from residents about speeding drivers along the roadway. While the maximum posted speed limit is 35 miles an hour, Police Chief Diane Hobley-Burney said earlier this year her officers clocked most cars at 40 to 43 miles an hour. Fort Pierce City Manager Nick Mimms told the City Commission last February that “everyone is just rolling” between his city and Ocean Breeze in Martin County, and the only reason they slow down there is “because of speed tables” installed by that community just south of Downtown Jensen Beach. Neither Fort Pierce, nor St. Lucie County have enough right of way to install similar traffic calming measures and would need to purchase it from willing landowners.

The Town of Sewall’s Point at the southern end of the roadway is not presently worried about speeders, however; its police officers have their hands full directing traffic along the clogged route due to the closure of the Roosevelt Bridge for repairs. That has forced much of the U.S. 1 traffic farther east and west. Indian River Drive and State Road A1A are the only two options other than heading out west to I-95 or the Florida Turnpike, and both pass through the heart of Sewall’s Point. The current traffic morass makes one of Mr. Divan’s comments from the meeting particularly resonate.

“We need a commuter line between northern St. Lucie County and Martin County,” he said. “Somebody started with the Green River Parkway. It would have been nice if it was continued, but it’s like a bridge to nowhere.”

Chairwoman Townsend said via email June 23 that Commissioner Dzadovsky and staff members were scheduled to meet with some of the residents the following day to discuss options that would later be presented during an informal public meeting.

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