In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Build it, and the strip malls will come – to Krome Avenue

Swept along in traffic — too many cars driving too fast on two lanes — I caught a momentary glimpse of a farm cart rolling along the roadside.

It was a scene from old Cuba come to America: an old man driving a wooden homemade cart outfitted with automobile wheels. The jerry-rigged contraption was pulled by a white pony that seemed much too small for the job. A damn near perfect photograph flashing by the passenger-side window. An illustration, oozing with charm, showing just why we need to save this rural stretch of Krome Avenue from bulldozers.

But escaping from the stream of traffic was not so easy. It was a half-mile or more before I found a safe place to pull off the road. Even then, minutes passed before a gap appeared in the traffic giving me time to turn around and nose into the northbound lane.

By the time I got back up the road, the cart must have turned off. A pictorial argument for saving Krome had disappeared from sight while I was jammed up in traffic. And there’s the contradiction.

Krome Avenue cuts through swamps and groves and fields of row crops. Along stretches, tall stands of pine and melaleuca loom close enough to the berm to shade the asphalt from the late-afternoon sun. But the road is no pastoral escape from the dreary suburbs. Not with so much traffic. Drivers who allow themselves to be distracted by the rural landscape are apt to find out why they call this road Killer Krome.

The two lanes carry two incompatible realities along the 37-mile road, also known as State Road 997, on the western reaches of the Miami-Dade suburbs.

The traffic clearly is too much for a two-lane road. That’s one reality. Agricultural and conservation zoning and the county master plan may have kept the subdivisions and strip shopping centers a few miles east of Krome Avenue, but the planners weren’t able to fend off the suburban traffic jams.

In those throngs, impatient or drunken or distracted drivers will inevitably stray into the oncoming lane, giving the road its ignominious nickname along with the title as Miami-Dade County’s most dangerous stretch of road.

This isn’t news. A decade ago, when the fatality rate along Krome rose to 3.7 times the state average for comparable roads, a ferocious debate broke out about widening it. Herald reporter Meg Laughlin wrote, “In its unforgiving history, Krome Avenue has left scores of grieving loved ones, as well as neighbors and commissioners fighting over what should be done to make it safer. Simply put, the Battle of Krome is whether to leave it two lanes with shoulders added or make it four lanes with a barrier median.”

It’s not as though traffic has become tamer over the past decade. But four-laning Krome would summon forth that other unhappy reality of South Florida road building: Build it, and they will come. The land speculators. The subdivision builders. The strip-mall developers. The gas stations and the fast-food joints and the convenience stores. And so much for the farms and the trees and the swamps.

Roads built to relieve congestion spawn more sprawl and more congestion. Consider Interstate 595, built to funnel Broward County commuters off their overburdened city streets. It was a road built to ease congestion. Instead, the freeway, finished in 1989, ignited a residential and commercial building frenzy that, for several years, made Broward the fastest-growing county in the nation. And I-595 was jammed to capacity by 1996. (The road is currently ripped asunder as builders add reversible toll lanes, the latest answer to too much congestion.)

“We need the bigger road,” said Maggie Adrover, who manages San German Fruteria, at the intersection of Krome and Southwest 100th Street. “As long as they keep this area agricultural.”

But there’s the rub. Can the politicians at County Hall be trusted to fend off the land speculators and builders who could make millions if this land were opened to development? Will they save the likes of San German?

San German Fruteria calls itself a farmers market, but to a city guy it’s as exotic as a Wynwood art gallery, with those bins of subtropical fruits and vegetables that look nothing like the offerings in my local supermarket.

Most of the produce is grown right there on her family’s 20-acre tract just off Krome. Adrover spoke of that land with an affection that seemed beyond a property appraiser’s calculation.

Sure, a four-lane road would make a run to the San German Fruteria less harrowing. But the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (known, not always affectionately, as MDX) is spending $6.9 million to study the feasibility of a tollway at the western edge of the suburbs. The Herald’s Andres Viglucci reported Wednesday that the most likely route would run on or along Krome.

Maggie Adrover didn’t seem worried, but I could imagine road builders rolling over her market and devouring her acres and limiting access for her customers zooming on a raised expressway at 75 miles an hour.

Maybe folks who’ve long opposed any widening of Krome, not unreasonably, will now find the prospect of an expressway so disturbing that they’ll agree to a modest four-lane project, a Krome compromise. Besides, MDX funded a five-year study, though it’s obvious that the traffic problems along Killer Krome need an immediate fix.

Of course, that was just as obvious 10 years ago.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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