With Miami Beach traffic snarled over Biscayne Bay during repairs of the MacArthur Causeway bridge, motorists soon will have a new toll-free alternative for trips to the mainland.
Westbound tolls on the Venetian Causeway bridge will be suspended during the morning and evening rush hours on weekdays, with the relief scheduled to start as early as Monday morning.
Approved by the Miami-Dade County Commission on Wednesday, the new rules mean motorists heading from Miami Beach to Miami will not pay the $2.25 one-way toll between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. and between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
The initial plan calls for 30 days of weekday suspensions westbound, but it could be extended every 30 days if two lanes remain closed on the MacArthur for the repair project.
The toll suspension would switch to the eastbound route over the Venetian when crews begin shutting down two of the MacArthur’s three eastbound lanes for bridge work.
Details on implementation of the commission resolution haven’t been announced, and technically the legislation wouldn’t take effect until 10 days after passage. But Mayor Carlos Gimenez is expected to waive his veto authority on the toll waiver once county lawyers finalize the language of the formal resolution, allowing the legislation to take effect immediately.
Lifting tolls on the Venetian was something of a prickly topic among commissioners, since the move is designed to shift traffic from the six-lane MacArthur to the two-lane Venetian. Residents of the islands along the Venetian already don’t pay the tolls, so the county change is bringing them only more traffic.
“I don’t think the residents of the Venetian Causeway are going to like [that it’s] being encouraged to push the traffic through there,” said Audrey Edmonson, the commissioner who represents the islands along the Venetian.
Residents on the Venetian urged Miami-Dade not to lift tolls during the weekends because of traffic concerns, said Eileen Higgins, the county commissioner who made the initial Venetian proposal.
Higgins, whose district includes the MacArthur, cited epic delays for Miami Beach commuters in justifying the free trips over the Venetian.
“Folks in South Beach are literally spending an hour to go six blocks,” Higgins said.
Commissioner Sally Heyman, who represents the northern areas of Miami Beach, successfully modified the original plan for an initial 45-day suspension to just 30 days at a time in order to soften the impact on the Venetian.
“It’s a residential area,” Heyman said. “People get frustrated when you’re adding to the traffic.”