Miami-Dade County

Near the planned mega-mall, a bridge to nowhere sparks another fight

A locked gate cutting off westbound traffic on Northwest 170th Street near the proposed American Dream mega-mall site, located between Miami Lakes and Hialeah, just south of where I-75 meets the Turnpike.
A locked gate cutting off westbound traffic on Northwest 170th Street near the proposed American Dream mega-mall site, located between Miami Lakes and Hialeah, just south of where I-75 meets the Turnpike. MIAMI HERALD FILE 2015

The bridge to nowhere of Miami Lakes may soon have a destination — and the neighbors aren’t happy.

An abandoned highway overpass taking 170th Street over I-75 hasn’t seen vehicular traffic for more than three decades, the victim of a residential revolt that pressured the state to mothball the structure after it was built in 1984.

But with the American Dream Miami retail theme park planned nearby, the shuttered bridge is enjoying a controversial revival in affection. Miami-Dade commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to urge the state’s Transportation Department to finally open the two-lane causeway to vehicular traffic.

“We do not build bridges to just have them sit there,” said Commission Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo, whose district includes the overpass. “One of the reasons our transportation is so messed up is because there’s always the mentality of ‘not in my district.’ … This is a solution at hand.”

Please do not allow the destruction of a residential community by bringing the mass of traffic this bridge will generate.

Mercy Sierra, real estate agent in Miami Lakes

Bovo’s resolution in favor of using the overpass followed a string of Miami Lakes residents urging Miami-Dade to keep it closed, and a plea from nearby Hialeah to open it as a way to ease congestion for the growing suburban area.

The debate highlighted the tension that comes when once isolated neighborhoods find themselves at the crossroads of Miami-Dade’s western expansion, and how the pressure of development can endanger past victories against growth.

 
 

“Please do not allow the destruction of a residential community by bringing the mass of traffic this bridge will generate,” said Mercy Sierra, a real estate agent in Miami Lakes. “Please, as your legacy, take care of our little area.”

Along with the six-million-square-foot American Dream project about eight blocks away, the Graham Companies want a three-million-square-foot commercial complex next door, ending at 170th Street. Lennar also plans new housing developments nearby in Hialeah.

Bovo insists that the opening has nothing to do with American Dream’s quest for expanded highway access to its 200-acre project, since developer Triple Five has said it doesn’t need the bridge reopened to make its traffic plan work. But with American Dream’s projected 40 million visitors promising to remake transportation in the area, the project’s emergence in 2015 quickly raised concerns that the 170th Street bridge would be revived.

We do not build bridges to just have them sit there.

Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo

In the 1980s, Florida buckled to local pressure over the newly built overpass and agreed to close it to vehicular traffic. Barriers and gates prevent vehicles from crossing I-75 from the residential neighborhood to the east in Miami Lakes to the undeveloped land in Hialeah to the west.

Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández urged commissioners to back opening the bridge, saying the time has come. “These bridges were made to be used,” he said. “Everybody understood that, in the future, there would be a need for connectivity and movement.” Manny Cid, the mayor of Miami Lakes, asked Bovo to hold off until a traffic study could be conducted on opening the bridge. “We’re not sure of the impact it will have on our community,” he said.

From his seat on the commission dais, Bovo added language to his resolution that asks Florida to ban trucks from the overpass and prevent bridge traffic from continuing east on 170th Street. He also amended his resolution to link a reopening to the results of a traffic study, which he said was already under way.

“If that study comes back with a negative impact,” Bovo said, “I’ll be the one filing the legislation that would halt anything going onto that bridge.”

Bovo said the bureaucratic process needed to open the bridge could take years, but the fight isn’t over.

An overpass south of the area, off Northwest 154th Street, also has been closed for years and looks ready to be subject to a similar debate. Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, whose district includes the American Dream site itself, said he would be submitting legislation similar to Bovo’s to revive the 154th Street overpass.

“People are shutting down areas so nobody can travel through,” Diaz said. “Ladies and gentlemen, all of these streets are paid for by everybody.”

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