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This canal is to blame for Palmetto Bay’s traffic woes. Some neighbors say build a bridge.

Miami-Dade County is proposing to build a bridge on SW 87th Avenue. This is a view of the site from the north side, SW 163rd Terrace. The canal sits behind the banyan tree.
Miami-Dade County is proposing to build a bridge on SW 87th Avenue. This is a view of the site from the north side, SW 163rd Terrace. The canal sits behind the banyan tree. MONIQUE O. MADAN

In the mid-1900s, Miami-Dade County constructed a series of zigzagging canals to control flooding. The canals snake through neighborhoods and for decades have dictated where roads, homes and developments are built on the county grid.

The narrow waterways, some of which begin along the edge of the Everglades, ultimately stream into Biscayne Bay. As populations have increased, the canals have become major obstacles to traffic flow. The county is trying to solve the problems but is running into opposition, specifically in Palmetto Bay, where rural lifestyles are colliding with traffic congestion.

To help ease traffic, the county has proposed building a bridge over the Cutler Drain canal (C-100), connecting two ends of Southwest 87th Avenue near 164th Street and 163rd Terrace, where the avenue has only two lanes. The project, one of 12 road improvement projects the county is looking to initiate in 2018, is estimated to cost about $1.9 million.

The proposal has stirred contention in the community, a suburban expanse of ranch-style homes in the southwest part of the city. Because this stretch of the canal, which runs east to west, blocks drivers going north-south, drivers are forced to take circuitous routes on residential streets to get to the other side of the canal. Although the bridge would benefit drivers who need a straight shot across, for the immediate neighborhood, it would simply shift the traffic from one two-lane street to another.

The idea of a bridge across the canal is nothing new. For almost 20 years, Bill Kestel said he and some of his neighbors have battled bumper-to-bumper traffic on their streets during peak hours — about 2,000 cars a day are driven through the neighborhood — and have been asking for the connection.

“My street is the missing bridge,” said Kestel, who lives on Southwest 83rd Avenue, a residential road that drivers use to get to the other side of the canal. “I don’t need an alarm clock. At 6 a.m., it’s rise and shine because of the noises from all the cars … Of course they have no choice but to zigzag through, and with reason — they are just trying to get home or to work.”

The bridge proposal was slated to be heard by the county’s Transportation Planning Organization in June but was taken off the agenda at the request of County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who represents that area. Levine Cava complained that the county has not talked to her or neighbors of the bridge site and that she learned about it on Facebook.

“While the [transportation planning] process might have been formally followed, the spirit of public input was not,” she said. In addition, she said more research is needed on how a bridge would affect traffic on specific streets, specifically Southwest 141st Street, the last road that drivers can use to connect to U.S. 1 before being blocked by another canal.

Traffic engineers agreed to conduct a study.

Palmetto Bay Mayor Eugene Flinn said a bridge on 87th Avenue — one of the county’s most-used arterial avenues — would hurt the village more than it would help it.

“We need a way to get cars out of our village, not getting more cars to cut through our village,” Flinn said. “That’s what this bridge is going to do, enable commuters to cut through our residential neighborhoods.”

Flinn and Cutler Bay Mayor Peggy Bell have different views on the bridge but issued a joint statement in support of the county delaying a decision. “This project can create tension and discord among our neighboring municipalities,” they said. “We are committed to continue to find solutions together that will benefit all of our residents.”

This is one little bridge. It’s not going to cure our problems.

Eugene Flinn, Palmetto Bay Mayor

County engineers say the potential bridge would absorb about 60 percent of the northbound traffic on 87th Avenue. The other 40 percent would turn left or right on Southwest 168th Street — the last opportunity to turn before the road ends at the canal.

Because the intersection of 82nd Avenue and 168th Street is a bottleneck on a cut-through route, the traffic light will be removed, a traffic circle will be built, and “no right-turn” signs intended to detour cut-through traffic will be removed. The county predicts the changes will decrease wait times from five minutes to 20 seconds.

Right now, we have a mixed bag of opinions, yet Palmetto Bay is the biggest beneficiary, where gridlock is bottle-necked for almost three hours a day.

Frank Guyamier, engineering deputy director, DTPW

Flinn, who has advocated for public transit measures in South Dade for years, says a bridge isn’t the answer at all.

“It’s not going to help in the long term. This allows the county to continue ignoring our mass transit needs,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be nice to see the people in the cars cutting through the neighborhoods use the transit way and not on everybody’s road? Is it going to be better transit or build bridges and call it victory?”

Daniel Yglesias, a resident of Palmetto Bay for 10 years, lives next to where the bridge would be built. He’s a member of the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee, which is charged with providing a recommendation to the Transportation Planning Organization, which will ultimately approve or deny the project. He has been very vocal about his opposition at council and community meetings.

“I think it’s going to divide what we have. This bridge would devastate the northeast corner of this village,” Yglesias said. “It’s not just for me, it’s for my whole neighborhood.”

Like Yglesias, Frank Guyamier is also closer to the project than his neighbors. Guyamier, who lives less than a half-mile from the proposed bridge site, is the lead traffic engineer for the county Transportation & Public Works department.

Guyamier has been a big proponent of the project, saying that “for years it’s been a complete gridlock.” He says it’s not a conflict for him to work on the project. “The projects are based on data and reports we receive. I’m not the only one looking at this, and it’s not the only location. We are making improvements across the entire county,” he said, adding that he’s “looking at this project like any other project.”

Reality is [that] we have some solutions that have been proposed since forever. Eighty-Seventh Avenue was always intended to be bridged.

Bill Kestel, Palmetto Bay resident

The canal near the bridge site is a regular hangout for several fishermen who relax by the flowing water. The grass is riddled with tiny purple flowers, and a grand banyan tree that neighborhood kids climb grows beside the canal.

Some residents who live close to the potential bridge say they bought into the neighborhood because of its tranquility. Eva Jackson, a mother of three young children, watches her kids play in the yard on their swing set and trampoline.

“If this bridge comes, you can kiss all that goodbye. We’d have to move. My kids would not be allowed outside because cars would be zipping through,” she said.

Robert Johnson, another Palmetto Bay resident, says he sympathizes with people like Jackson, who worry about heavy traffic on their street. But, he said, 87th Avenue “is a main arterial road and should serve its purpose.”

“The truth is, this bridge is going to help more people than it’s going to hurt,” Johnson said.

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan

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