More than 200 residents showed up Thursday night at an informal “open house” meeting of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, and the majority of almost two dozen people interviewed expressed support for the project outlined there to extend the Dolphin Expressway to westernmost Kendall.
“I think it’s a great idea for the people who live way out west in the county, like myself, who spend two hours going to downtown to work and coming back,” said Vivian Forhat, a resident of the area, whose opinion was typical of the people who expressed support for the plan. “Those four hours a day we can spend with family.”
Ten of 21 people interviewed expressed support for extending the expressway, also known as State Road 836. Five were opposed. The rest had no opinion, were confused about the proposal or wanted to talk about other issues such as tolls or gas taxes.
Angelica Bertot Santibañez and her husband, Jorge Santibañez, backed the project because they have hour-long commutes from their Kendale Lakes home to jobs in Pinecrest and Coral Gables.
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But the couple did have one concern. As they looked at the display boards propped up at the Miami Batist Church, the event site, they noticed that their home was actually within the study area —meaning the road could come very near their home.
The project is controversial. Environmental activists say an expressway at the edge of the Everglades would attract more business and residential development, potentially damaging or destroying ecologically sensitive areas. Environmentalists are also upset because the highway would be built largely beyond Miami-Dade’s Urban Development Boundary (UDB), which is supposed to mark the limit of urban and suburban development in the county.
“I don’t think any of the alternatives are acceptable,” said Julie Dick, a program attorney of the Everglades Law Center, a nonprofit that advocates preserving the Florida landscape. “Adding highways is not going to relieve congestion and crossing the UDB opens the door to more development.”
Carlos García, who leads the group RollBackTolls.com, voiced a similar sentiment.
“It is a dangerous idea,” said García. “It’s close to the Everglades. If you build the road, they will come, the land-use attorneys, the rezoning attorneys. The pressure will build for development. The environmental aspect is a huge concern for me.”
Pat Milone, a Redland resident, echoed García, and said mass transit should be the option, not more highways.
“These kinds of projects are attacking the transportation issue the wrong way,” Milone said.
MDX officials say the project would relieve traffic congestion and actually limit further urban expansion west of Krome Avenue. The project is largely aimed at providing people who live in densely populated West Kendall access to a high-speed expressway, currently not available in the westernmost reaches of the county.
While no final alignment has been chosen, one of the proposed routes would be to build the extension largely along the path of the existing Krome Avenue all the way to Southwest 136th Street or a point just to the north of that location.
According to MDX these corridors were identified in a concept report prepared in 2008 and represent a starting point for the evaluation. During the corridor analysis, some options may be discarded, and some new ones may be identified.
The actual reason for the meeting was to describe the current phase of the project and future steps. Under the current phase, MDX — in coordination with the Florida Department of Transportation — is conducting a project development and environmental study to evaluate the feasibility of the project.
A PD&E study is a process under which transportation officials determine social, economic, and environmental impacts of a specific project.
“The goal is to avoid, minimize or mitigate any potential impacts that are identified during the evaluation,” said Tere García, an MDX spokeswoman.
Unlike a public hearing where a formal presentation is made followed by questions and comments, Thursday’s public meeting was held mostly in an informal setting. Graphics and maps were set up around a room, and MDX officials answered questions individually from members of the public. The room was crowded throughout the event at the Miami Baptist Church.
“The reason this meeting was planned as an open house was to make it as flexible and as convenient as possible so residents could attend at any time during the period between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.,” said García, the MDX spokeswoman.
MDX plans to create a Citizens Advisory Committee for the residents in the area and environmental forums to bring together environmental organizations, she added.
García also said that other events later will include a corridor workshop, an alternatives public workshop and eventually a public hearing.
“We are also available to meet any interested party during the course of the study,” she added.