Miami-Dade County

City of Miami sues state over long-delayed Flagler Street construction

West Flagler construction causing financial heartache for business owner

Jorge Fernandez has been a business owner in Little Havana for nearly 50 years but endless construction on West Flagler street is causing him financial troubles.
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Jorge Fernandez has been a business owner in Little Havana for nearly 50 years but endless construction on West Flagler street is causing him financial troubles.

The city of Miami is suing the Florida Department of Transportation to force the state agency to finish its long-delayed construction on West Flagler Street, a long-delayed project that has devastated business along a busy Miami corridor.

The state transportation department, known as FDOT, and its contractors have failed to meet construction deadlines on a $45 million project on three miles of Flagler to upgrade drainage, replace a 75-year-old water main, rebuild sidewalks and add a bike lane. The work, which began in 2016 and was supposed to be finished in late 2017, has obstructed access to area businesses, which owners say has damaged the Flagler economy.

In a Nov. 30 email to one of Miami’s assistant city attorneys, Mario Cabrera, a senior FDOT official, states that crews are pushing to finish the job before year’s end.

“We expect to have all sidewalk completed by the end of December,” Cabrera wrote. “Contractor is pursuing the completion of this project by the end of this year/early next year.”

The assurance wasn’t enough for officials at City Hall. The city wants to compel FDOT to finish its work on 12 blocks of Flagler no later than Dec. 31, according to the lawsuit filed in circuit court Monday evening. City Attorney Victoria Mendez argues that the disruptive work is a public nuisance that makes it hard for the elderly to get around and hurts small businesses.

The state hired Pinnacle Consulting to oversee the contractor on the project, Russell Engineering. Neither company is named in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was foreshadowed in May, when Commissioner Manolo Reyes introduced a resolution instructing the city to “take any and all action(s) necessary” to get the state to finish the construction. The commission unanimously supported the resolution. Since then, the state has not met deadlines — which had been extended — and work continues. The lawsuit references a Miami Herald article from May in which residents and business owners described the site as a “war zone.”

On Monday, Reyes said he lost patience after the state agency promised him the project would be complete by the end of October of this year, then missed that deadline.

“It seems that FDOT has no regard for our residents and our businesses,” he said.

FDOT representatives have said that unforeseen conditions and utility work have delayed the project.

Meanwhile, as crews eventually paved portions of the street and reopened intersections that had been closed during the street work, business owners lamented the slow pace of construction, lack of sidewalk and parking problems.

Adding fuel to the ire: An email sent by a state contractor asking workers to make sure County Commissioner Eileen Higgins saw as few problems as possible during a scheduled tour on Nov. 20. It was also sent, apparently inadvertently, to Higgins. The message urged crews to make sure the site had clear pedestrian access, to open any “unnecessarily closed side streets” and to “clear as much debris and garbage from the job site as possible” and to “please assure that crews remain busy that afternoon ... “

“Everybody knows if I hadn’t scheduled a visit, no one would be working after 4 p.m.,” said Higgins, during the tour.

Mayor Francis Suarez echoed Reyes’ frustration as he supported the city’s lawsuit.

“This project is universally known as a small business killer,” he said.

Read the the lawsuit below: