By Madison Fantozzi
This story published in the Miami Herald’s South East Neighbors on Sunday, January 26, 2014. You can also read online.
Pinecrest residents responded skeptically on Monday to a proposal to replace the South Dade Busway with a new expressway.
More than 50 residents showed up for a meeting with representatives of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, or MDX. About a dozen asked questions about the cost and effects of the proposed project. How much will the tolls be? Will it really improve traffic on U.S. 1? Will cars back up at a proposed Pinecrest entrance ramp?
An MDX representative said she didn’t have definitive answers to most of these questions because the project is still being studied to determine whether it should go forward, and if so, in what form.
She did say that tolls would likely range from from 10 to 80 cents per mile, managing 1,350 vehicles per hour per day. Tolls would cover the cost of construction, operation and maintenance of the lanes.
The road would follow the Busway’s route for up to 12 miles, from the Palmetto Expressway to as far as Southwest 232nd Street with 24-foot-high overpasses at all intersections. There would also be at least two lanes operating in both directions during rush hours at 45 mph. The expressway would serve buses as well as cars, and could open as soon as 2022.
The residents’ questions reflected the same skepticism that Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner has had toward the project since MDX first floated it in 2012. She repeated her concerns Monday night, and took aim at the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group of county commissioners and city officials who set spending priorities for Miami-Dade’s transportation system.
“The Metropolitan Planning Organization is one of the reasons why the county is in the shape it is in,” Lerner said. “This is a lot of money that’s going to put more traffic, cars and emissions on our roadways.”
The MPO commissioned the study and will vote on it as early as summer 2015.
Lerner said this project could destroy future transit options for South Dade, but MDX said the project will maintain bike lanes and preserve the option of future Metrorail extension. The county’s elevated subway-style train tracks now stop at the Dadeland station. The Busway is supposed to bring passengers from South Dade to Dadeland, where they can take the train into downtown Miami.
Lerner suggested light-rail options and extension of Metrorail, but the MDX spokeswoman said these are not cost-effective solutions.
The Pinecrest Village Council passed two resolutions against the expressway study in 2012, but on Monday, Vice Mayor Joseph Corradino and council members James McDonald and Bob Ross said they were trying to keep open minds, particularly in light of the miserable traffic situation on U.S. 1.
“We’re strangled by cars and traffic,” said McDonald, who used to be the chairman of the village’s advisory transportation committee. “Traffic jams hurt us economically and it’s an ongoing issue of how we’re going to solve it. This study is looking at that.”
Corradino said the council will remain objective and is interested in the outcome of the study.
But the project already has firm opposition.
Carlos Garcia, co-founder of getMDXoffthebusway.com, called it a “toll-a-coaster. This is short-term gain for long-term pain,” he said.
Pinecrest resident Priscilla Rivera agreed.
“This project would change the character of South Dade forever,” she said.
She said traffic would back up and spill into neighborhoods surrounding a proposed entrance ramp at Southwest 95th Street.
“It encroaches on our properties although they say it doesn’t, and it will be a high-speed, high-toll road although they say it won’t be,” Rivera said. “People aren’t aware that this will affect them, but it will —even if it’s not in their backyards.”
MDX pointed to the county’s land-use projection and predicted 83 percent population growth over the next 25 years, requiring a need to reduce congestion on U.S. 1.
“Without construction, you will see more traffic on your local streets than you do now,” MDX spokeswoman Tere Garcia said.
But Rivera fears it will have an adverse affect. “Development invites traffic into our neighborhoods,” she said.
A public hearing is scheduled for summer and MDX plans to recommend one of its alternatives to MPO by winter 2014.