While many believe that more vehicles and an inefficient transit system are the chief reasons behind Miami-Dade’s chronic traffic problems, in reality there are many other factors that contribute to gridlock.
From a raised drawbridge downtown to a crew trimming trees on Coral Way in Miami or Crandon Boulevard in Key Biscayne to constant construction on State Road 836, traffic can come to a standstill even if it’s not the rush hour and the number of vehicles is not enough to clog a particular roadway on a normal day.
From Homestead to the Broward County line, work crews – it often seems – can tear up or close a road at the drop of a hat. A water main break, for example, can lead workers to close a major road within hours on any given day. Also, increased money – from the federal government or from a toll hike – can make road construction seem like an endless task.
Federal stimulus money contributed greatly to making possible the $560-million reconstruction of the interchange between 836 and State Road 826 near Miami International Airport (MIA), a project expected to be finished next year after seven years of roadwork.
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But even if the 836-826 project is almost ending, roadwork on 836 will continue.
MDX officials said reconstruction of interchanges between 57th and 17th avenues has started and is expected to get heavier by the end of September or beginning of October. Construction at the 87th Avenue interchange is slated to begin in the first quarter of next year. The projects are expected to be completed within five years, MDX said.
Two other major highways where construction will continue for years are I-95 on the east and I-75 on the west. On I-95, workers are extending express lanes into Broward County and then plan to extend them further to Palm Beach County. Meanwhile, workers are also building express lanes on 826 northward into I-75.
In downtown Miami, however, the continuing focus of public ire is the Brickell Avenue drawbridge whose frequent openings back up traffic for blocks.
“The opening of the bridge all the time bothers me,” said Krisel Hadad, a student who goes to school in the area. “It creates a lot of traffic jams and it forces me to make detours to get to a place after I leave my house.”
Mauricio Beltran, a Brickell Avenue financial district executive, said he wants something done about the draw bridge.
“It affects you when you’re in a hurry and you’re rushing for an appointment,” said Beltran. “A tunnel would be good.”
It just so happens that some officials are now weighing the possibility of a tunnel to replace the drawbridge.
Miami City Commissioner Francis Suárez recently obtained approval from a Miami-Dade transportation planning board to consider the possibility of commissioning a study for a tunnel under the Miami River to replace the drawbridge.
“It’s a response to the complaints of the public,” Suárez said in a recent interview, in which he noted that the drawbridge was not the only source of increased traffic in the Brickell financial district.
“We have projects in that corridor that will increase the density of the Brickell financial district,” said Suárez. “A lot of buildings being built. But we’re planning ahead and we are targeting the source of gridlock.”
Construction of those buildings is another source of traffic backups in the area. For example, almost every block on SW Eighth Street between I-95 and Brickell Avenue contains a high-rise construction site. Some mornings, commuters take between 20 and 30 minutes to travel four or five blocks because of the traffic jam caused by restricted lanes and workers slowing traffic for dump trucks and other equipment arriving or leaving construction sites.
An additional burden is placed on drivers who travel at night. To avoid disrupting rush hour, many major highway projects now take place overnight with severe lane restrictions and sometimes full closures after midnight or before sunrise.
Increased traffic due to more people settling in South Florida is another major factor in the backups.
Juan Carlos Figueroa, who lives in Kendall Lakes, says it’s a challenge getting to the Turnpike from his home every workday.
“Traffic in Kendale Lakes has become unbereable,” Figueroa said in a recent email to el Nuevo Herald. “I travel to the Turnpike and that takes more than 40 minutes. I have lived for more than five years in the area, but never have I see traffic worse than in recent times.”
Then there are the frequent visits to Miami by U.S. leaders such as President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, whose travels tie up traffic because of expressway closures.
On Wednesday evening, when Biden arrived for a two-day visit, it took a commuter more than two hours to get home in Key Biscayne from work in Doral – normally a 30 to 45-minute trip via 836.
Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter @AlfonsoChardy