Remembering the night that her son died in a car crash, the words catch in Rita Rodriguez’s throat: “The party wasn’t even worth it.”
Anthony Rodriguez, 22, known as DJ Sonic C, was heading home from a friend’s party when he died in head-on collision in January on Krome Avenue in western Miami-Dade County. In the period from 2005-11, 28 people lost their lives on the roadway, and 902 others were injured.
“People refer to it as Killer Krome. They refer to it as the wild wild west,” Rodriguez said, her frustration mounting as she described the conditions — a two-lane road with no median barrier, poor lighting and narrow lanes — that lined the path to her son’s death.
Rodriguez and others have been calling for increased safety on the highway. An online petition with more than 9,400 signatures seeks more lighting and wider lanes. “I can’t keep seeing people die on this street!” wrote Tina Guiler. “One death is one too many,” said Todd Easley.
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The Florida Department of Transportation has pledged to do something about the roadway as part of a massive multiyear project. But the specifics of the project are causing controversy.
The DOT plans to widen the lanes and add a lane on both sides of the highway for more than 30 miles, creating two lanes traveling north and two south. A 40-foot median will separate the two sides, to help prevent cross-over head-on collisions like the one that took Rodriguez’s life.
There will also be additional lighting at intersections and a pedestrian pathway.
The project is “very ambitious,” said Harold Desdunes, the DOT’s district director of transportation development. Compared to other construction jobs in Miami, “You’ll never see so many projects along one corridor.”
The Krome Avenue project has been in the works for years, he said, adding it was derailed due to financial difficulties several years ago. It was only last year that the project regained the green light to move ahead with construction.
Despite the DOT’s efforts, Rodriguez and Mike Arias, a public safety advocate, believe that greater safety measures should be taken. They are firmly in favor of placing a barrier in the middle of the highway. A median, Arias said, is simply not enough to prevent head-on collisions.
Arias believes a concrete barrier should be installed, but said even a double-faced guardrail would be “better than nothing.” Rodriguez plans to express her concerns at Thursday’s Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting — a government-mandated forum to discuss transportation questions — which will mark exactly five months since her son’s death.
Desdunes said median barriers are typically placed in limited-access highways. With farms, fruit stands and small shops peppering Krome Avenue, vehicles are frequently turning onto and off Krome, making it a non-limited access highway. Placing a barrier in the middle of the street would require cars to travel long distances either northbound or southbound, Desdunes said, which would cut off easy access to these locations on the side of the road.
Shop owners on Krome are already concerned about how their businesses will fare with a median in the middle of the street.
Standing behind the counter of Margarita’s, an outdoor fruit stand that sells mangos, lemons and milkshakes, store manager Margarita Gonzalez looked out across the road and said, “I may lose my customers.” She is concerned people on the opposite side of the road will not drive around the median and loop back to buy a mango.
But she also recognizes the dangers of Krome. “Maybe there won’t be so many people being killed,” she said. Her business is minutes from the spot where Rodriguez died.
At Bernie’s Rock & Garden, a family-owned shop that sells vibrant stones in pink, gray and blue, general manager Emily Ortega understands the dilemma. She called construction on Krome a “delicate question.” She too recognizes that traffic on Krome Avenue is a problem, but wonders about the logistics of trucks using businesses along the road with a median in the center of the highway.
It will not take much time before the long agricultural road that runs through miles of farmland and fruit stands will see the start of construction. Dates vary for different parts of the road, but a number of projects are slated to begin some time next year, Desdunes said. He added that construction is typically completed in two to three years.
Ten miles away from her son’s small roadside memorial, in her comfortable suburban home, Rodriguez still feels ill when she calls one of her other two other sons and gets their voicemail. Additional safeguards on Krome, for Rodriguez, represent a chance to protect someone else’s son.
“I don’t have a horse in the race,” she said. “My horse is gone.”