Alton Road project in Miami Beach to finish early

A disruptive construction project on Alton Road in Miami Beach is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, seven months ahead of the original schedule.

How that will happen remains to be determined. The Florida Department of Transportation, which is responsible for the project, is still coming up with a plan to expedite the work.

“We’re working closely with the city, with our contractor, doing what we can to have that road open for traffic by the end of December 2014,” FDOT spokesman Brian Rick said Monday.

The project was originally slated to wrap up in the summer of 2015, with lane closures of the major thoroughfare scheduled throughout the duration. The rerouting of Alton Road, a main South Beach artery for residents, businesses and tourists, has backed up traffic, cut off access to businesses and has made crossing the streets a dangerous proposition.

The disruption comes when the Beach is at its prime-time peak: In the past few weeks, thousands of people have flocked to the city for the Miami International Boat Show and the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. And spring break beckons.

Rick said that work may drag on past the new December 2014 target date, but the state hopes to reopen Alton to traffic by then.

“It is a priority,” he said.

Mayor Philip Levine announced in an email that the state had agreed to speed up construction after he and city representatives met last Thursday with Gov. Rick Scott and other state officials.

Beach commissioners already decided at their regular meeting in February to ease the city’s noise ordinances to allow construction crews to work longer. So far, that’s the only explanation given for how FDOT will manage to wrap up construction ahead of schedule. However, the state has yet to figure out what the new hours will be.

“This week hopefully we’ll know more,” said project spokeswoman Heather Leslie.

FDOT is working to install pump stations to drain water out of flood-prone neighborhoods. While the improvements are sorely needed, construction has included multiple road closures. The most painful has been a detour of southbound Alton Road from Eighth Street to 17th Street, forcing traffic to the residential neighborhood of West Avenue.

Edith Wigoda owns three properties along Alton Road. She said her tenants have complained the construction has made it difficult for customers to get to the stores.

“I reduced all the rent to my tenants because I don’t know if they can survive,” Wigoda said. “They tell me they’re not doing business at all.”

Miami Beach launched a free trolley that loops around Alton Road and West Avenue to help customers reach the shops and restaurants impacted by construction. Trolley riders can park for free at the garage on Alton Road and Fifth Street. An estimated 300 businesses are found along the trolley route, according to the city.

“We’re trying to make it a lot easier for folks to move around and access the area and patronize the businesses,” City Manager Jimmy Morales said when launching the new shuttle.

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