Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade mayor wants to revive Kendall extension of 836 expressway

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez during a meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board on Aug. 10, 2016.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez during a meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board on Aug. 10, 2016.

A day after concerns about westward growth sunk a request to extend the 836 expressway into Kendall, Miami-Dade’s mayor stepped in to try to revive the proposal with county commissioners.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez called for the commission to reconsider Tuesday’s 3-2 committee vote against the proposed extension. The plan would take the busy expressway past the county’s Urban Development Boundary, which divides intense development from land with growth restrictions designed to protect the Everglades.

Gimenez “believes the [Urban Development Boundary] can be respected while area residents have another option to commute,” Michael Hernández, the mayor’s top spokesman, wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning. Hernández said the mayor, who is in Europe for a mix of vacation and county business, will ask that the 836 proposal be brought back for reconsideration by the commission.

The announcement puts Gimenez on the opposite side of Miami-Dade’s environmentalist advocates, who lobbied to defeat the 836 proposal and brand it as an assault on the Urban Development Boundary. While Gimenez has said he generally opposes moving the development boundary, he has made supportive comments about extending the 836, a toll expressway also known as the Dolphin.

They’re not going to budge me.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez

The proposal for a southwest extension by Miami-Dade’s independent toll board, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, would not move the boundary’s position. But critics saw the plan as a green light to eventually allow intense development to spread west to the new highway. An Expressway Authority presentation from 2010 suggested that would be the case, noting that the extended highway “could be used as ultimate urban boundary to limit western expansion.”

Erin Clancy, conservation director for the Tropical Audubon Society, said she was stunned to hear Gimenez was intervening to try and revive the 836 proposal. “I didn’t think this was over,” she said. “I had not expected we would be going up against the mayor.”

“Well, here we go,” said Laura Reynolds, a leading critic of the 836 extension and a consultant with Friends of the Everglades, when she learned of Gimenez’s statement. “Mayor Gimenez ran on holding the line,” she said, describing the 836 extension as a “back door” into moving the boundary without calling for it explicitly.

Hernández said Gimenez is not calling for moving the development boundary. “Mayor Gimenez believes it is possible to alleviate traffic congestion in western Miami-Dade County without moving the Urban Development Boundary,” he said.

At Tuesday’s hearing before the commission’s Government Operations committee, Expressway Authority officials said there was no scenario for extending 836 south without crossing the boundary. An alternative within the boundary would involve demolition of houses, schools and businesses in the densely populated areas inside the development zone, they said.

People were saying: ‘We don’t matter. They don’t care.’

Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez, on Kendall residents after the vote to block an extension of SR 836

Commuters out of Kendall urged commissioners to send the 836 proposal on to the full 13-member board, saying they deserved access to an east-west expressway to bypass clogged neighborhoods. Joe Martinez, the commissioner who represents much of Kendall, said he heard from furious constituents after the committee defeat.

“People were saying: ‘We don’t matter. They don’t care,’ ” Martinez said.

Earlier this year, Gimenez secured a seat on the Expressway Authority board, which is partially appointed by the County Commission. He and other county leaders are hoping to use expressway toll revenues to help pay for a countywide transit plan that includes a rail expansion with a cost estimate of $6 billion, according to a consultant’s report.

Gimenez also recently appointed a county task force to examine the pros and cons of moving the Urban Development Boundary as part of a required review of the county’s growth plan every seven years. Extending the 836 past the boundary requires a change in the growth plan, and the Expressway Authority wanted Miami-Dade itself to sponsor an amendment application to the county’s planning staff. Tuesday’s committee vote rejected that proposal.

The County Commission’s rules allow defeated legislation to be revived if two-thirds of the committee where it died request a second chance from the committee’s chairman. In this case, that would be Dennis Moss, who voted against the 836 proposal but is also an Gimenez ally.

Commissioner Xavier Suarez, one of three No votes on the committee, said he won’t be changing his mind on the 836 plan.

“They’re not going to budge me,” Suarez said. “It’s not common sense to think you’re going to put a highway past the [Urban Development Boundary] line and not expand development.”

Transportation engineers are building new highway interchanges on Highway 836 at Northwest 57 and 27 avenues in Miami. Left turns are eliminated in the design.