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Mayor Gimenez: Doing what is best for the Everglades and South Dade residents

Conceptual representation of a transit station at the Kendall Parkway.
Conceptual representation of a transit station at the Kendall Parkway. Miami-Dade

It’s all spelled out in the public documents: All the required Enronnmental studies that have been underway for four years, plus unprecedented requirements to guide Miami-Dade County’s future growth.

They include the protection of our West Wellfield, the 1,000-plus acres of wetlands to be bought and placed in the public trust in perpetuity, a linear trail along the highway for walking, biking and horseback riding.

All of this is part of a highway project that connects to rapid transit stationswith a dedicated lane for commuter buses and future transit. All of it would be paid for by tolls, at the same cost that drivers now pay to get stuck at a snail’s pace on Florida’s Turnpike or the Palmetto Expressway to get to the 836 Dolphin Expressway and eventually to Doral, the airport or downtown.

Not one bulldozer can move an inch of sandy soil to build the proposed Kendall Parkway without all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted on all permits, as required by local, state and federal laws. Protection of the Everglades has been and will continue to be paramount in this plan to give relief to 600,000 Miami-Dade County residents — almost one-fourth of our county’s population — who are clamoring for more mobility solutions that can get them to their jobs on time and with less stress.

And yet a recent column in the Herald by Laura Reynolds, a lobbyist for Friends of the Everglades, suggests that there has been a lack of transparency in the efforts by the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) to get public input on the proposed Kendall Parkway, and that I want to “rush to a final vote” by the County Commission “without any of the analysis that common sense and the law require.”

First, this project has been in the works since before I joined the MDX board. The proposal that will go before the Commission on Thursday seeks the state’s approval to amend the county’s comprehensive development plan for that 80 square-mile area so that property east of the Urban Development Boundary would have to follow the same rules that limit unbridled growth to the west, closer to the Everglades. Developers would not be able to use the Kendall Parkway’s added capacity as a justification to build more. Waiving that proposed rule would require a 2/3 vote by Commissioners — an extra hurdle that has worked to protect the UDB for 15 years. The County and MDX are entering into an inter-local agreement that spells out all the historic requirements to protect the Everglades, farmland and wetlands in the area while providing a better quality of life for commuters.

So what’s really going on here?

I also share Sen. Marco Rubio’s concerns that any plan must protect Everglades restoration. As it stands, the Bird Basin is not in play in the Everglades project, and my administration is committed to purchase sensitive wetlands elsewhere to swap with the federal government to protect our River of Grass.

As Reynolds surely knows, it takes years to get all the approvals required from state water managers, as well as federal, state and county environmental offices. We are not “rushing” anything. I agree that the cards sent to residents to encourage them to participate in community meetings about the parkway should have included a box to mark any objection to the project, but there’s no question that the vast majority of residents in South Dade and West Kendall support the parkway. The public meetings that the Herald’s reporter and Reynolds attended capture the strong support for this one-of-a-kind project.

It’s a one-time opportunity to bring a highway, express transit corridor and 1,000 acres of protected wetlands all under one project that also gives added protection to the county’s UDB.

Reynolds attempts to confuse the public by demanding that toll money that is paid solely by drivers who use MDX highways be used instead for “heavy rail and other transit options.” Insisting on exorbitantly expensive heavy rail for this suburban corridor is simply not feasible — and frankly an abuse of South Dade toll-payers who already pay a half penny sales tax for transportation improvements, including rail, that mostly serve other parts of the county.

It’s past time to move the Kendall Parkway forward with all the care the Everglades — and our residents — deserve.

Carlos A. Gimenez has been Mayor of Miami-Dade since 2011 and serves as MDX chairman.