Miami Beach

Before sea level rises, Miami Beach officials want to raise West Avenue 1½ to 2 feet

Miami Beach wants to improve storm water drainage and raise West Avenue between 1½ and 2 feet over the course of a two phase project. The first phase, which will likely begin in February, involves work on West Avenue from Fifth to Eighth streets and from Lincoln Road to 17th Street. Work is expected to last until August.
Miami Beach wants to improve storm water drainage and raise West Avenue between 1½ and 2 feet over the course of a two phase project. The first phase, which will likely begin in February, involves work on West Avenue from Fifth to Eighth streets and from Lincoln Road to 17th Street. Work is expected to last until August. Miami Herald Staff

In an area that has seen its fair share of roadwork during the past few years, city officials want to raise West Avenue between 1½ to 2 feet during the next few years in an effort to prepare one of the lowest-lying points of Miami Beach for anticipated sea level rise.

Raising the road would be tied to stormwater drainage and sewer improvements that include installing more pumps to prevent flooding from rain and high tides. The first phase, which will likely begin in February, involves work on West Avenue from Fifth to Eighth streets and from Lincoln Road to 17th Street. This phase would last until August.

The West Avenue Neighborhood Association met Wednesday night with city officials to discuss the plans. Public Works director Eric Carpenter told the packed room of about 100 residents — some skeptical and some more in favor of the plan — that he prefers dovetailing the street raising with the underground infrastructure work rather than tearing up the street several times.

“It doesn’t really make any sense to disturb those segments of the street twice,” he said. “We’re moving forward with the stormwater improvements. What we’re trying to do now is get a consensus from the community that we want to move forward with everything else on that street so that we don’t have to come back later and tear it up again.”

With a higher road, the city would create transitions from the road to the sidewalk that include, depending on the property, a higher sidewalk, steps down to the sidewalk and/or extra drainage components to ensure that no water from the street is draining onto private property.

The stretch between 8th Street and Lincoln Road would be done at a later date in the second phase of the improvements.

Valerie Navarrete, president of the neighborhood association, said she feels the project is necessary sooner than later, even if it means everyone has to put up with more construction. She added that some private properties, like the building she lives in, will have to find solutions to pump water from their land.

“I’m three feet below sea level,” she said. “Our building’s water pump cost us $2,000.”

The contractor for phase one is Bergeron Land Development, and that first phase will cost about $15 million, according to city engineer Bruce Mowry.

Mowry also spoke to residents Wednesday, saying that Miami Beach — the western swath of South Beach in particular — is “ground zero” for the affects of sea-level rise.

“I’m not going to stop sea-level rise,” he said. “But we are here to try and mitigate.”

Some residents have been skeptical since first hearing about the project at a neighborhood meeting in December. Business owners have felt the pinch since a large section of Alton Road was torn up and rebuilt recently, and they worry work on West Avenue will further hinder business. Residents already tired of construction headaches are wary of more detours, jackhammers and dust.

With Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and commissioners pushing for projects like these to get done quickly, some residents are actually wondering if maybe the city should take more time to hash out the details before launching the two-phase project.

Wednesday night, residents asked several questions about timing and what impact the street raising would have on their properties. Virtually all agreed the work is necessary to keep South Beach dry, but many want to keep discussing details of how it will be done and what the finished street will look like.

“It’ll be OK,” said Gayle Durham, who is a member of the neighborhood association board and has had reservations about the project. She, like many, wants to keep discussing the impacts, including what kind of streetscaping will be done after the the road is raised. She suggested properties work with the city plant trees on private property to create a bigger canopy, and city staff said they were open to the idea.

“I feel better after this meeting,” she said at the end. “I trust them more.”

Shawn Bryant, another board member, asked why the city hasn’t fully designed both phases of the project, along the whole stretch of West Avenue, before starting phase one.

“This is a 12-block area, and you’re going into a project that hasn’t been full designed out,” he said. “That’s just astonishing to me.”

Carpenter and Mowry assured everyone that there would be a smooth transition between raised sections of West and non-raised sections between phases, and that the details of impacts on the sidewalk would get hashed out on a property-by-property basis. The project has also been broken up into phases because the neighborhood has, in the past, requested the city not tear up the whole street at once.

By the end of the two-hour meeting, Bryant was thankful for the explanations.

“I’m not against the project,” Bryant said. “I just want to understand the project.”

Carpenter said his office was available to people who have questions or concerns.

“I know that’s a scary thought when the government comes and says, ‘We’re here to help,’ but we really are here to help,” he said. “And if you have concerns or you have problems, let us know, and we’ll try and fix them.”

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