Eighty-five years ago Friday, the Tamiami Trail opened to much fanfare. Showgirls on horses, civic boosters in hats and hundreds of Model Ts paraded down the two-lane road that promised untold riches. Miami businessman Frank Jaudon, the “Father of Tamiami Trail,” ran full-page newspaper ads offering to turn wetlands south of the road into oil fields, sugar plantations and subdivisions. People were in high spirits on April 26, 1928. Within 18 months, Jaudon’s fanciful dreams would sink into the sawgrass. The Great Depression had begun.
Tamiami Trail has cut off the main source of fresh water for the southern Everglades for almost a century. The devastation brought to the land, water and wildlife of Everglades National Park and Florida Bay is immense. But scientists say it’s about to get infinitely worse. Climate change and sea-level rise present an existential threat to the Everglades and our drinking water. Experts say the only way to fight salt water is with fresh water. And the only way to do that is by elevating the Tamiami Trail.
Last week traffic was rerouted onto the first of what will be a series of bridges to restore water flow across the Tamiami Trail. In March, former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar cut the ribbon on a one-mile bridge. Now the National Park Service is planning for the next two-and-a-half-mile span, part of a total of 6.5 miles of bridging. This “Everglades Skyway” is the centerpiece of restoration.
Miami-Dade County must make building the Everglades Skyway its top priority. Without it, our water supply and the Everglades will vanish. Few foresaw economic collapse in the frenzy of the Roaring ’20s, but we can clearly see an ecological collapse on the horizon. It’s up to us to decide whether we want to change the future.
Jonathan Ullman, South Florida/Everglades representative, Sierra Club, Miami