Miami-Dade County

A fight over a highway bleeds into debate over growth toward the Everglades

Miami-Dade’s toll board wants to extend the 836, shown here in the morning near Northwest 57th Avenue, to give commuters in Kendall another option for heading east.
Miami-Dade’s toll board wants to extend the 836, shown here in the morning near Northwest 57th Avenue, to give commuters in Kendall another option for heading east. EL NUEVO HERALD FILE 2015

Miami-Dade’s pending fight over moving the urban-development boundary may get a sneak preview Tuesday when the public can weigh in on whether to extend the county’s busiest toll road.

A proposal backing the extension of the Dolphin Expressway southwest into the Kendall area comes before a County Commission panel on June 13 at 1:30 p.m. at the Stephen Clark Government Center in downtown Miami. Environmentalists see the Government Operations Committee’s meeting as a showdown with developers and others eager to expand single-family homes and commercial outlets closer to the Everglades.

“We have to learn from our mistakes,” said Laura Reynolds, a consultant who represents Friends of the Everglades on some Miami-Dade issues. “It’s flooded out there. We can use it for farming and we can use it for recreation. But we can’t keep it dry all the time.”

Miami-Dade’s toll authority wants to extend State Road 836 — best known as the Dolphin Expressway — about 15 miles along a route that would take the major highway outside the county’s current boundary separating rural Miami-Dade from urban development. The idea is to provide Kendall residents a faster route north and east, and an alternative to the clogged turnpike or secondary roads heading toward Miami.

“We need a transportation fix for today,” said Joe Martinez, the Miami-Dade commissioner whose western district includes much of the proposed 836 extension. “I’m worried about the problems we have now.”

Martinez is a sponsor of legislation by Commissioner José “Pepe” Diaz that would rewrite Miami-Dade’s growth plan to accommodate the 836 extension. The plan calls for building the expressway past the county’s Urban Development Boundary, the line that separates more permissive building rules for subdivisions and strip malls from ones limited to farming and low-density building.

As commissioners consider extending 836, the actual development boundary is up for its seven-year review and developers, environmentalists and other interests are gearing up for an extended debate. While the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority’s plan to extend the Dolphin past the line would not change any zoning rules, critics see the move as easing the way to moving the boundary up to the edge of the new highway.

The Tropical Audubon Society urged members to attend Tuesday’s meeting, saying it was a chance to prevent urban sprawl and “protect against Sea-Level Rise.” With low-lying areas closer to the Everglades, Reynolds said western development will send more homeowners into flood-prone areas bound to get more soggy as the seas rise.

She’s urging Miami-Dade to rewrite the toll authority’s plan in favor of widening 157th Avenue, a north-south artery to the east of the development boundary. The extra space would be used to accommodate express buses or other transit options beyond a traditional highway.

“I want to try and show them how they can solve the problem in a different way and not go outside the [Urban Development Boundary] ever again,” Reynolds said.

Martinez said he didn’t know if extending the 836 would make it easier to move the development boundary. But he said it’s not up to Miami-Dade to discourage homeowners from looking west.

“There are some people who keep saying you need infill. ‘Eastward ho,’ ” he said. “Who are we to tell anybody where they have to live? ‘You have to live east. You have to live on Brickell.’ I don’t agree with that line of thinking.”