Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade ousted him from transit board for fighting a highway. Bad move, judge says.

MDX releases video to educate drivers to new driving patterns on 836 Expressway

Miami-Dade Expressway Authority released a video and held community meetings to detail the Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI) traffic design coming to State Road 836, the Dolphin, in August. But motorists remain confused, skeptical.
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Miami-Dade Expressway Authority released a video and held community meetings to detail the Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI) traffic design coming to State Road 836, the Dolphin, in August. But motorists remain confused, skeptical.

The Miami lawyer behind the fight to stop the 836 expressway extension plans to retake his seat on a Miami-Dade transit board after a judge ruled the county was wrong to oust him from the post.

In December, Paul Schwiep was removed from the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust at the urging of Mayor Carlos Gimenez after Miami-Dade lawyers cited a rule barring board service by someone suing the county.

Schwiep is the lawyer on Tropical Audubon’s legal challenge of the proposed 13-mile extension of the 836 into West Kendall, a project championed by Gimenez in his role as chairman of the toll agency that would build it. A Miami-Dade judge ruled Monday that Schwiep’s role in Audubon’s administrative action fell short of the lawsuit required to remove him from his unpaid board seat.

Miami-Dade commissioners had the chance to waive the no-lawsuit rule and let Schwiep keep his seat on a board where he has served multiple times as chairman. Gimenez, who also serves as chairman of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, wrote to commissioners in December urging them to not intervene. The commission took no action.

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Paul Schwiep is a longtime member of Miami-Dade’s Citizens Independent Transportation Trust, a board that oversees the county’s half-percent sales tax. He lost his seat in 2018, and sued to regain it. A Miam-Dade judge ruled Aug. 19, 2019, that the county was wrong to remove Schwiep from the board over his participation in a legal challenge of the proposed 836 extension into West Kendall. Miami

The court fight over Schwiep’s seat was a spin-off battle from the fight to build the 836 extension, which would bring the busy east-west toll road into wetlands and other undeveloped land in West Kendall. Branded the “Kendall Parkway,” the $1 billion project was pitched as a commuting improvement for the Kendall area while critics said it would only encourage sprawl without helping traffic. Audubon and other groups are challenging county approval of the project, which would be funded by toll revenues.

The dispute has been complicated by an unrelated court fight to kill a new state law dissolving the MDX. A judge recently ruled in MDX’s favor, but an appeals fight is pending.

Even though Monday’s ruling in Miam-Dade Circuit Court by Judge Pedro Echarte is a win for Schwiep in his suit to overturn Miami-Dade’s action, the decision doesn’t mean he gets to return to the board that oversees the county’s half-percent transportation tax.

Echarte sided with Schwiep in deciding Audubon’s petition for review by Florida’s Division of Administrative Hearings should not have triggered the county law barring “lawsuits” by Miami-Dade board members. But Echarte stopped short of ordering Schwiep back on the board, saying the court lacked authority for now to issue an injunction on the matter.

Miami-Dade lawyers had no comment on their next steps. It was the county attorney’s office that triggered Schwiep’s removal when it wrote the board on Nov. 7 that Schwiep had surrendered his seat by participating in Audubon’s legal challenge.

On Monday, Schwiep sent a letter to Transportation Trust director Javier Betancourt, saying he planned to take his seat at the next meeting, on Sept. 18. Schwiep wrote he would seek court intervention if the board tried to stop him. “I am hopeful that will not be necessary,” he wrote.

Gimenez’s office was not immediately available for comment. Betancourt declined to comment, saying he first had to speak to county lawyers about Schwiep’s letter.

This article was updated to correct the spelling of Circuit Court Judge Pedro Echarte.

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