Miami-Dade County

Traffic problems a given around American Dream mega-mall. But who will be to blame?

A rendering of the indoor amusement park for American Dream Miami, a retail theme park planned in Miami-Dade that promises to vie with Disney World for local entertainment dollars.
A rendering of the indoor amusement park for American Dream Miami, a retail theme park planned in Miami-Dade that promises to vie with Disney World for local entertainment dollars. Triple Five

Nobody seems to doubt traffic would be a mess around the new American Dream Miami mega-mall off the Florida Turnpike. But that doesn’t mean the developer will be forced to fix the roadways to keep traffic moving.

Many major roads within the vicinity of the planned six-million-square-foot retail theme park — including the Turnpike, Miami Gardens Drive and the Palmetto Expressway — are “estimated to operate deficiently by 2020,” Florida’s Transportation Department wrote in a March 15 letter to Miami-Dade. Those roads also include Okeechobee Road, about three miles to the south, and Pines Boulevard, about four miles north in Broward County.

Given the state and local rules governing the application, American Dream would be responsible for funding roadway improvements on only a fraction of the problem roads. The reason: Some are so clogged already they can’t be shown to get any worse. Some are expected to fail traffic standards in the future even without American Dream’s estimated crush of 40 million visitors a year. American Dream also wouldn’t need to pay for roadway improvements already in the construction pipeline.

The result: “Only a few” roadways around the 200-acre American Dream site in Northwest Miami-Dade check enough boxes to require the developer to pay for improving them, Florida transportation planner Lisa Colmenares wrote Jack Osterholt, a deputy mayor in Miami-Dade.

Those roadway projects American Dream must pay for include Miami Gardens Drive and ramps off I-75. But that doesn’t mean taxpayers won’t need to pay for improvements to roadways feeding American Dream, including those bound to get more crowded from the mega-mall’s estimated 70,000 vehicle trips per day.

“If the County decides to approve” American Dream’s plan, Colmenares wrote, state and local governments will need “to plan future projects to address the anticipated transportation deficiencies…”

The letter is part of a statewide review of a development plan by American Dream and its sister project, a 340-acre commercial and residential complex to the south by the Graham Companies. A representative for Triple Five, the Canadian firm behind American Dream, noted Florida only requires developers to address traffic problems caused by projects, and not to fix broader issues with nearby highways that would be clogged anyway.

“Clearly, those impacts caused by the application need to be addressed,’” said Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, the former state senator representing Triple Five. “That’s what we’re doing.”

Clearly, those impacts caused by the application need to be addressed. That’s what we’re doing.

American Dream Miami’s Miguel Diaz de la Portilla

The letter offers fodder for the coalition of area malls fighting American Dream, a would-be competitor promising to vie with Disney World for local entertainment dollars. Triple Five, owner of Minnesota’s Mall of America, plans a $3 billion mega-mall married to a theme park in Miami-Dade, with an indoor ski slope, submarine rides and indoor roller coaster. While Triple Five initially announced a 2020 opening, the developer recently said 2022 is the new target.

The mall group, dubbed the South Florida Taxpayers Alliance, is taking aim at Triple Five’s costs to build the project. Along with trying to block the project from seeking public funds — which Triple Five claims it doesn’t want — the group is pressing Florida and Miami-Dade to require the developer to pay for more roadway improvements.

In a statement, the group seized on Colmenares noting American Dream would be responsible for those limited roadway improvements tied directly to the project. Triple Five has already publicly agreed to those improvements, including widening Miami Gardens Drive and building the interchanges leading to the project. “Before it was a promise,” said Jesse Manzano-Plaza, a spokesman for the mall group. “Now it’s a requirement imposed by the state.”

While the roadway requirements for Triple Five aren’t new, the correspondence from Florida’s transportation arm highlights continued concern about traffic plans for what would be one of South Florida’s largest tourist attractions. The planning process relies on a traffic study American Dream commissioned, and Colmenares wrote Florida cannot vouch for the results.

“The Department is concerned with the trip distribution and assumptions included in the traffic analysis,” she wrote. The mall group claims the study assumes too many cars will use major highways leading to the project, a scenario that minimizes potential gridlock for local shortcuts through neighborhoods surrounding the undeveloped site.

Diaz de la Portilla said that while the analysis was paid for by Triple Five, crafting the report involved extensive feedback from government agencies, including Florida’s Transportation Department.

“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of emails back and forth,” he said. “That’s all vetted and put together with the input of all the government entities.”