Every weekday morning, Dimas Reyes loses about $90.
The landscape company owner from Naranja commutes north toward Coral Gables with his crew. Despite the traffic-riddled trek, the bulk of his time is spent along a half-mile stretch of Southwest 87th Avenue in Palmetto Bay.
“Time is money, money I could be making mowing someone’s lawn if I wasn’t still sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic,” Reyes told the Miami Herald Tuesday. Frustrated, he tapped his steering wheel. “There are days my car doesn’t move for five whole minutes at a time. In total, I spend about 30 minutes on this street just to travel a few blocks — and all because we can’t get across 87th Avenue.”
Because 87th Avenue is obstructed by a flood-control canal, county officials are proposing to build a bridge over the Cutler Drain Canal (c-100) that would connect the two ends of the road near Southwest 164th Street and 163rd Terrace. On Thursday, that proposal will go for a final vote before the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization.
The proposal, which has been debated for decades, has recently sparked contention in the community, as a growing body of critics is concerned about creating a major thoroughfare through residential neighborhoods in the southwest part of Palmetto Bay.
“A bridge is never, and will never, be the answer,” Palmetto Bay Mayor Eugene Flinn has told the Miami Herald.
The project, one of 12 road improvement projects the county wants to initiate in 2018, is estimated to cost about $1.9 million.
Because the stretch of the canal — which runs east to west — blocks drivers going north and south, drivers are forced to take circuitous routes on residential streets to get to the other side of the canal. Although the bridge would benefit drivers who need a straight shot across, for the immediate neighborhood, it would simply shift the traffic from one two-lane street to another, residents say.
Still, some support it. For the last few months, homeowner Bill Kestel launched a campaign, “Build the Bridge.” Every workday morning, Kestel, sporting a neon safety vest, stands along 164th Street passing out fliers to drivers traveling north.
“I know the bridge is not the end-all, or the ultimate solution,” said Kestel, who lives on Southwest 83rd Avenue, a road that drivers use to get to the other side of the canal. “But it’s a start. It will surely help every piece of this traffic puzzle. There’s no reason 87th Avenue, a major arterial road, shouldn’t warrant a bridge that has been in the plans for so long. It just makes sense.”
As Kestel continued to distribute fliers, one driver driving south zipped by and yelled, “If you don’t like it, then move.”
Frank Guyamier, the lead traffic engineer for the county’s Transportation and Public Works department, says the bridge would bring significant relief to commuters. He cited a recent county study that said the bridge would allow for peak times to be reduced from four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon, to 2.5 hours each morning and afternoon peak period.
“More vehicles are going to cross the intersections faster, providing for a higher traffic volume during a shorter period of time,” the traffic report said.
Guyamier compared the bridge project to a water funnel.
“If all this water needs to flow though this one little opening, it’s going to take a really long time,” he said. “The solution is that you have to diffuse that water through several different openings, in this case, streets. You will see cars passing by, but for a lot less time, and living standards are going to be much more enjoyable. Every traffic expert that looks at this model says this is the easiest traffic analysis they’ve ever looked at; one of the easiest studies to show significant improvements to the community.”
As an example of how commutes will be improved, county officials said residents can compare it to when schools are on recess. During school recess, traffic congestion is reduced by 4 percent.
Using that as a reference, county officials said traffic at Southwest 82nd Avenue and Southwest 168th Street would be reduced by 40 percent. At the intersection of Southwest 87th Avenue and 168th Street, there would be a 10 percent reduction.
The problem began in the mid-1900s, when Miami-Dade County constructed a series of zigzagging canals to control flooding. The canals snake through neighborhoods and for decades have dictated where roads, homes and developments are built on the county grid.
The narrow waterways, some of which begin along the edge of the Everglades, ultimately stream into Biscayne Bay. As the region’s population has increased, the canals have become major obstacles to traffic flow.
But Flinn, the Palmetto Bay mayor, doesn’t think the bridge is the answer.
“We need a way to get cars out of our village, not getting more cars to cut through our village,” he said. “I’m frustrated that the county seems to be moving backward on mass transit, focusing money on dividing neighborhoods rather than providing a better alternative for commuters.”
The proposed bridge will go for a final vote before the Miami-Dade TPO Governing Board at 2 p.m. Thursday at 111 NW First St.