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Canal crash heightens safety concerns among Kendall residents

Bits and pieces of car debris are spread across the grassy alcove near the water’s edge.

Shattered glass from a nighttime hit-and-run that took out a guardrail. Damp receipts and a Panera Bread card from a careening Mitsubishi that splashed into the car-deep canal. A plastic box from who-knows-what.

“Piece of a car,” said neighbor Zachary Spiewak as he stepped over a mangled guardrail about 50 feet from the shore.

The road ends about 200 feet south of the intersection of Southwest 102nd Avenue and 144th Street, leaving seven orange-and-white road markers, a few metal posts and knee-high grass between dry road and the Miami-Dade canal.

Two weeks ago, 22-year-old Rossanna Bernal Baldan sped through those barriers and into the canal, swimming from her sinking car as it dipped below the surface.

She was OK, but the incident has neighbors worried the next person won’t be as lucky.

“It’s been a continuous problem,” neighbor Jackie Barnett said. “I think there are a lot more ways they could make this a lot more preventable.”

The middle-to-upper-class neighborhood is spotted with landscaped yards and manicured shade trees. The neighbors feel comfortable jogging with their dogs or fishing with their sons. But neighbors say this section of road has been a thorn, especially because the canal is deep enough to drown someone.

Spiewak, whose house is along 102nd Avenue by the canal, said there have been 10 to 15 incidences since he moved to the Kendall neighborhood in 1998.

After a driver slammed into the metal guardrail on June 30 and sped away, Spiewak called the county to ask that it be replaced. The crash pulled the guardrail from its posts, bent it in half and mangled the metal beyond use.

“My wife says, ‘You have to go out there and do something because someone’s going to end up in the canal,’ ” he said. “And guess what? That’s what ended up happening.”

A work order to replace the guardrail was put in on July 5, and it typically takes 30 days for a crew to replace the barrier, according to the county Public Works and Waste Management Department. The guardrail was replaced last week.

Before the new guardrail was installed, several orange traffic markers, which flash at night, were set up at the dead end.

While reflective signs and the metal barrier were rebuilt to span the width of the dead-end street, Spiewak pointed to the June 30 accident to show they might not be enough. He’s pushing to get a 10-foot-wide sign installed by the canal that unquestionably tells drivers they can’t go any further.

The county said the roadway markers and guardrail are “the appropriate traffic control devices to inform drivers that they are approaching the end of the street,” according to a county statement. Both were installed based on federal and state standards.

Barnett said she hopes the county will consider adding a large barricade closer to the intersection of 144th Street and 102nd Avenue because she feels the current barricade isn’t enough.

“It’s been replaced many times, and never adequately, and people have crashed through it before,” she said.

Over the past decade, Spiewak said, a cement mixer driver and escaping robbers have been among those who have crashed into the guardrail. All of the crashes, except for Bernal Baldan’s crash, were at night.

The contention boils down to what people believe drivers can and cannot see.

From the vantage point of a standard, four-door car, a driver going toward the dead end will pass a “No Outlet” sign on the left-hand side of the road near the last stop sign. For about three-tenths of a mile, there is clear roadway as the driver gets closer and closer to the edge.

As the driver gets closer to the water, he or she cannot see the canal. What the driver does see is a 15-mph sign, a school and a red light. The canal breaks the road evenly, leaving an illusion that the street goes straight through — if the driver ignores or cannot see the barriers for some reason.

“It’s what the human eye sees,” Spiewak said.

Barnett said she would like to see a permanent solution to the problem so she and her neighbors won’t have a tragedy on their hands.

“It’s always been an issue with the canal,” she said. “Always.”