Alton Road construction starts in effort to relieve Miami Beach flooding

Three separate roadway projects going on at the same time will likely cause traffic jams for Miami Beach residents and commuters.

Alton Road, Collins Avenue and I-395 will all be under construction in 2013.

All are state projects, and they all overlap.

Among the projects is a plan to help relieve flooding along Alton Road. But the situation may get worse before it gets better.

The construction along one of Miami Beach’s busiest corridors may make area traffic a nightmare for the duration of the 2 1/2-year project, and may exacerbate the West Avenue neighborhood’s own flooding problems.

To top it all off, the construction kicks off just as spring tides will be at their highest, making more flooding likely.

“It seems almost insane,” Charles Urstadt, a member of Miami Beach’s Planning Board, said at a recent meeting. “The timing of this is obviously all very important.”

Alton Road improvements, spanning from Fifth Street to Michigan Avenue, are slated to begin April 1. For the project, southbound vehicles will be detoured to West Avenue as the Florida Department of Transportation installs pumps to relieve flooding and otherwise improve Alton Road.

The detour route has locals worried about traffic in their neighborhood. It could complicate deliveries for local restaurants and shops, and could make commuting difficult for employees who work along West Avenue and residents who live there.

“We’re concerned about mitigating the impacts,” said Christine Florez, co-chair of the West Avenue Corridor Neighborhood Association. “But we want to see relief for the flooding.”

Flooding along West Avenue, where cars will be forced to drive while construction is under way, is sometimes worse than the flooding along Alton, locals said. When tides are high or rain is heavy, water laps up against buildings along West Avenue, and sandbags are a common sight.

Making matters worse: Tides are expected to be at their seasonal highest in April, when the Alton Road project breaks ground. Todd Ehret, a physical oceanographer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, said a full moon and closer lunar orbit will coincide at the end of April and also in May.

“But this is a constant. Four to six times a year, this happens,” Ehret said. “The high tides are going to be a little higher than normal for a couple of days, but we’re only talking a half an inch, an inch or maybe two. But it’s nothing outrageously high.”

The flooding may turn out to be a non-issue, though, because a pump station that will be installed at Alton and Fifth Street may relieve flooding in the West Avenue area, too — although the pump is intended only to address flooding on Alton. The pump at Alton and Fifth is the first of three planned stations up and down Alton. The others will be at 10th Street and 14th Street.

The $35 million project also includes a redesign of Alton Road, which will have four travel lanes, including a shared lane for cars and bicycles. The road will still have on-street parking on each side, although planned traffic-calming measures mean that 90 spots will be lost.

Collins Avenue will get a facelift, too.

That project, which includes street resurfacing, curb and gutter enhancements, and drainage improvements, begins this summer and will last only about a year. Street closures will only occur at non-peak hours, according to an FDOT official who spoke at the Planning Board meeting.

State officials promised to keep special events in mind and to try to minimize traffic impacts at busy times, such as during the Miami International Boat Show and Art Basel.

“This is an unavoidable, two-year nightmare that’s about to happen” said Planning Board member Jonathan Beloff.

Not mentioned at the Planning Board meeting: another project that will force detours and closures along I-395.

Construction on the $4.2 million project starts this week with restriping of the expressway. According to the Florida Department of Transportation, the project includes: replacing an overhead sign structure along westbound I-395 near Biscayne Bay; repaving and restriping the westbound I-395 exit ramp to North Bayshore Drive and the eastbound I-395 entrance ramp to the MacArthur Causeway; improving the riding surface of the roadway; updating signage and pavement markings; and relocating and removing several trees.

The project, which also includes work on State Road 836, is expected to finish up in May 2014.

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