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For the sake of the Everglades, don’t expand State Road 836 to South Dade

The proposed modern Bus Rapid Transit system would use modern-looking bus stations like this one
The proposed modern Bus Rapid Transit system would use modern-looking bus stations like this one Miami-Dade Transit

Recent articles in the Miami Herald have exposed how MDX has misrepresented to the public essential facts about the plan to extend State Road 836 in South Dade, through some of the last undeveloped areas of Florida’s most populous county. That absence of transparency — a feature of state law — is appalling.

The state of Florida already expressed its concern about the quality of information and data provided by MDX. A more muscular response by the state has regrettably been eroded in the past decade by the state legislature. And because the state is weak, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez believes he can push through the most impactful development project in recent county history.

We don’t know to what extent coordination has been done on environmental impacts to Everglades Restoration with federal and state partners, because MDX has refused to release requested information in a timely way. This led Friends of the Everglades to file suit this month in state court. MDX showed up to that hearing with a disk of documents we have yet to review.

We fear that the purpose of the delay tactic is to rush to a final vote without any of the analysis that common sense and the law require.

What we now know is that MDX and the county may have spent more money on a campaign to convince the public this is a good project instead of doing their due diligence on seeing if it was actually a good project and especially on completing a thorough environmental analysis.

MDX may have spent more than $200,000, on a mailing and a video that clearly is pushing taxpayers in one direction: build that road!

Other questions pile on top of this push. Why has the Mayor Gimenez’s administration cut public transit services over the last three years and choose Bus Rapid Transit over elevated heavy rail at the same time they are pushing a six-lane highway? Major Gimenez talks a good game about transit, but

Where are the improvements? Complete something. Expand services don’t cut them. Make transit a major budget item and float a bond to get it done now.

The public should demand progress to improve current services on the SMART plan first with the East/West corridor being built now before this or any other new road project is prioritized or even approved.

The reality is this project with a now billion-dollar price tag will distract and pull available toll revenue dollars from MDX that could and should be allocated to transit to be spent to pay down a bond on this project instead.

Many Floridians do not want to continue to be so car dependent, but we need real options — all of our resources should go to maintain the roads and infrastructure we have and build a better expanded and updated transit system that services the entire county for the future.

Not build new roads and continue to not invest in transit. West Kendall should have heavy rail and other transit options just like the US 1 corridor, let’s complete that first and give people real options. As Senator Marco Rubio pointed out — we cannot let anything get in the way of Everglades Restoration as it is the key to our future resiliency.

It should be prioritized and accelerated, not diminished by projects that constrain it like this one does. Miamians should care about these projects as they will help protect us by staving off saltwater intrusion and protecting our future water supply, protecting wetlands and providing water storage to help clean our water and it will help with flood attenuation for future flooding events as we deal with a changing climate and superstorms.

We need the chairman and the commission to stand up to Mayor Gimenez and MDX and stand up for the people, and our future — not investors and developers that stand to make millions on eminent domain payouts on the backs of desperate West Kendall drivers that have no other real options.

We believe a delay on this vote is needed. The state, our county commissioners and our U.S. Senators are owed information needed to make an informed decision that is best for the county and our future.

Laura Reynolds is with Friends of the Everglades and the Hold the Line Coalition.