The start of track work for Brightline, the express passenger train service scheduled to begin operating later this year, is inflicting serious if temporary traffic pain in northeast Miami, El Portal and Miami Shores, and commuters all along the Florida East Coast Railway line should brace for at least several more weeks of disruptions and logjams.
All Aboard Florida, the service’s parent, shut down the rail crossing at Northeast 79th and 82nd streets, the principal east-west commuter routes between Interstate 95 and Miami’s Upper East Side, to auto traffic for the week starting Sunday night to install new track and make safety improvements, the company said. The road crossing won’t reopen until next Monday evening at 6 p.m.
Although the company says it posted signs two weeks in advance warning of the closure and indicating alternate routes, many commuters were caught by surprise at rush hour Monday and Tuesday. Thousands of diverted motorists jammed intersections to the north and south as they sought a way across the rail line, which runs north from downtown Miami, with some complaining it took them 20 minutes to get across nearby Biscayne Boulevard during both the morning and evening commutes.
Ali Soule, an All Aboard spokeswoman, said Tuesday the company has added informational signs and made adjustments to improve traffic flow in consultation with the Florida Department of Transportation and local municipalities.
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Making things worse, the next major route to the north, the usually quiet Northeast 87th Street, was inexplicably blocked at the rail crossing Tuesday morning in the tiny village of El Portal because the gate was down even though no work was going on at the spot. El Portal police had to direct bottlenecked motorists one by one around the gate and across the tracks. FEC, which operates the crossing gates, did not respond to a request for an explanation.
Although traffic was flowing again by the evening commute, El Portal village manager David Rosemond said his office had to field complaints from frustrated residents and motorists.
“Something malfunctioned, and we had to jump in and help. This has not been fun for us,” he said. “It’s traffic like we’ve never seen before.”
In the next couple of weeks, All Aboard will close crossings for two days to a week at Northeast 179th Street in Aventura, Northeast 146th Street in North Miami Beach, and at Northeast 54th, 27th and 29th streets in Miami. For a full detailed schedule through the end of March, visit allaboardflorida.com/construction/grade-crossings/miami-dade-county.
Brightline, a private subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, will begin service from a new train station in downtown Miami to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach this summer. A leg to the Orlando airport will be added in 2018. In preparation, All Aboard has been gradually upgrading more than 130 grade crossings in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Work in Miami-Dade has just started and will run through mid-2017.