Miami-Dade County

Bridge Wars head to court as Miami Lakes sues county over a ‘trespassing’ road crew

An aerial view of a closed bridge on Northwest 154th Street linking Hialeah to Miami Lakes, one of two I-75 overpasses that Hialeah wants open after decades of being closed. Miami Lakes is fighting to keep them closed, and on Oct. 3, 2019, sued Miami-Dade to block roadwork needed to open the overpass at Northwest 170th Street.
An aerial view of a closed bridge on Northwest 154th Street linking Hialeah to Miami Lakes, one of two I-75 overpasses that Hialeah wants open after decades of being closed. Miami Lakes is fighting to keep them closed, and on Oct. 3, 2019, sued Miami-Dade to block roadwork needed to open the overpass at Northwest 170th Street. mocner@miamiherald.com

Miami Lakes wants a judge to bar county road crews from extending streets to a highway overpass that’s been closed for decades but is now slated to be a busy thoroughfare connecting the town with Hialeah on the western side of Interstate 75.

The lawsuit filed by Miami Lakes against Miami-Dade County officially expands the fight over the 170th Street bridge from the political realm into the legal.

Politicians from both sides of the bridge have been feuding over the wisdom of finally allowing motor vehicles to use the overpass and another closed one at 154th Street. Hialeah is demanding traffic relief by opening the bridges, while Miami Lakes insists the shortcut around I-75 will unfairly deliver congestion to its streets.

“Should the County continue its relentless pursuit of opening the bridge at N.W. 170th Street over I-75,” Miami Lakes said in the suit filed Thursday in Circuit Court, “the town will suffer irreparable harm to its municipal road-network ... and the overall welfare of its residents.”

The office of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez declined to comment Friday, citing a policy against publicly discussing litigation. On Saturday, the county’s Public Works Department said the work on county-owned land was done by a contractor for Lennar, the developer with the bulk of the new communities on the Hialeah side of the bridges. It also projects on the MIami Lakes side. Karla Damian, a Public Works spokeswoman, said the county issued the permit for Lennar to do the work.

Earlier this year, Miami Lakes all but promised to sue Miami-Dade over a standoff involving the two state-owned overpasses. Miami-Dade has so far sided with Hialeah on 170th and the other overpass at 154th Street, which a county traffic study concluded could open without excessive disruption in Miami Lakes.

The litigation timetable accelerated on Oct. 2 when a contractor began digging up parts of 170th Street to begin extending the road to the overpass, according to the Miami Lakes filing. “The street, as currently designed and constructed, cannot withstand the traffic that will be unleashed by the opening of that bridge,” Miami Lakes wrote in the filing. The filing said the contractor was “acting at the direction of the County.”

The town claims it controls the portion of the road dug up by Miami-Dade, citing a 2003 transfer agreement giving the newly formed Miami Lakes authority over county roads under most circumstances.

But the agreement states Miami-Dade retains authority for traffic signals, pavement markings and other traffic-related actions, including “road closures.” Miami Lakes, which became its own municipality in 2000, points out the agreement says nothing about “road openings.”

Miami Lakes said a town police officer first spotted the road work on the eastern end of the 170th Street overpass. Town administrators persuaded the crew members to halt their roadwork once they were told the land belonged to Miami Lakes, the town’s mayor, Manny Cid, said. “We stopped it on our side,” Cid said. “It was a major surprise. They all started rolling over the bridge. We were not notified. They did not pull a permit.”

Cid said the crews continued working on nearby land owned by the county, and that roadwork on the Hialeah side is almost finished.

The Miami Lakes lawsuit asks a Miami-Dade judge to block any further roadwork until both sides can argue their cases before the court. “The County is intent on continually trespassing on the Town’s property until it completes the connection of the roadway to the bridge over I-75,” the complaint says.

The suit escalates the long-running fight over the bridges, which Florida built in the 1980s when it expanded I-75 to the Miami area. As development increased in the area, Miami Lakes lobbied to keep both bridges closed. As pressure to open them grew in recent years, Miami Lakes negotiated an agreement with Hialeah designed to add extra protections for the 154th Street bridge by transforming it into a “linear” park over I-75.

Hialeah’s City Council endorsed the plan in 2015. Its current elected leaders are moving to undo that agreement in order to provide relief to new subdivisions the city allowed to be built on the western side of the bridges. Last month, Miami Lakes rushed to start site work on its proposed Bridge Park before Miami-Dade could begin constructing an access road there.

The latest move by Miami Lakes added to the rift between the town whose slogan is “Growing Beautifully” and residents on the Hialeah side who see no reason to keep tax-funded bridges closed.

“It’s a joke. They lack respect for the safety of people out west,” said Hialeah resident Eddie Santiesteban, an organizer of the bridge-opening effort. “As we grow, there has to be accessibility.”

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