The bid to extend the Dolphin Expressway into Kendall hit a major roadblock on Tuesday when a panel of Miami-Dade commissioners rejected the proposal, saying they couldn’t let the highway grow past the western edge of urban development.
“I’m concerned if you put infrastructure out there, folks will see that as a green light to come in there and move the UDB,” said Commissioner Dennis Moss. He was referring to the Urban Development Boundary, an imaginary line in the county’s growth plan to shield the Everglades from sprawl.
The proposal died in a 3-2 vote by the commission’s Government Operations committee. But it does not kill the push to create a southwest beltway for the Dolphin, a tolled expressway known as State Road 836. But the vote gave environmentalists an early win in blocking the extension, and reaffirmed the county commission’s past reluctance to intrude on the UDB’s western limits on growth.
“What are we going to leave for future generations?” Commissioner Rebeca Sosa asked before voting against the proposal. “That is our water. That is our oxygen. That is our future.”
What are we going to leave for future generations? That is our water. That is our oxygen. That is our future.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa
The proposal by the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority to extend the Dolphin about 15 miles into Kendall would not have moved the UDB. Developers would still have faced rules that ban subdivisions and shopping centers outside the urban zone. The neighborhoods targeted by the extension sit inside the UDB, but the expressway itself would have gone outside as a way to reach Kendall.
But environmentalists saw the 836 extension as the first step toward Miami-Dade deciding to move the development boundary farther west, to the edge of the new highway.
“Make the UDB a boundary, not a rubber band,” said Arlene Samalion, wearing a “Hold the Line” sticker as she addressed commissioners.
The MDX wanted the commission to take the unusual step of sponsoring a rewrite of the county’s growth plan to accommodate the 836 extension. With that voted down in committee, the MDX can submit the proposal through the county’s planning office, like any other application seeking a change in the master plan. The full commission considers changes to the growth plan.
Before the vote, commuters urged commissioners to tackle existing traffic problems that the 836 could relieve, rather than worry about a theoretical expansion of western development in years to come.
“By denying this, you’re killing the people out there. The problem is there. It’s already there. We can’t get around it.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez
“We need the 836 out there,” said Ramon Crego, who owns a tow-truck business in Kendall and said he turns down morning calls in Miami because of gridlock. “I hear people speaking against this. They don’t even live in Kendall. It’s great to live on the Beach.”
Luca Danglade said he left a job on Miami’s Brickell Avenue in part because his commute back home to Kendall took two hours. “Traveling west is nothing short of hellish,” he said.
Commissioner Xavier Suarez joined Moss and Sosa on the No side. Joe Martinez and Jean Monestime voted yes.
Sosa urged the MDX to consider an extension without crossing over the UDB, but the agency said that sort of route is impossible. Suarez said allowing an extension would siphon hundreds of millions of dollars from the toll authority that Miami-Dade hopes to use to build new rail projects.
Martinez, whose district includes Kendall, urged the committee to at least forward the MDX proposal to the full 13-member board. He argued the proposal was the region’s only realistic hope for relief from gridlock.
“By denying this,” he said, “you’re killing the people out there. The problem is there. It’s already there. We can’t get around it.”