Palmetto Bay

They say Waze and Google wrecked their neighborhood. Their response? A block party.

Will building a bridge over 87th Avenue be the answer to drivers’ traffic headaches? A block party was held Sunday to oppose the idea.
Will building a bridge over 87th Avenue be the answer to drivers’ traffic headaches? A block party was held Sunday to oppose the idea.

The black, 37-foot RV was strategically parked right near the center of the south Miami-Dade intersection on Sunday.

The mega-sized vehicle, stationed parallel to the Cutler Drain canal along Southwest 87th Avenue and 163rd Terrace in Palmetto Bay, sat precisely on the grassy site of where a bridge may potentially be constructed.

The bridge’s purpose? To calm traffic during rush hour, county leaders have stressed. Residents claim the congestion has gotten worse because of traffic apps that encourage drivers to cut through residential neighborhoods.

To protest the building of a bridge — which will go for a final vote before the county’s Transportation Planning Organization on Thursday — residents of the tight-knit neighborhood put a creative spin on their version of a block party by literally blocking the site with a party.

“It’s symbolic,” said Jodi Atkison, the event’s organizer. “This is an old-fashioned party with a message to the county that it’s not fair to bulldoze through a neighborhood, regardless of their little studies.”

During the party, residents sat down around the RV to watch football and eat pizza.

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Will building a bridge over 87th Avenue be the answer to drivers’ traffic headaches? A block party was held Sunday to oppose the idea. The RV was symbolically parked on the project’s site. MONIQUE O. MADAN

Because Southwest 87th Avenue is obstructed by a flood-control canal, county officials are proposing to build a bridge that would go over it, connecting the two ends of the road near Southwest 164th Street and 163rd Terrace.

Transportation leaders say their studies show the bridge would allow for peak times to be reduced from four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon, to 2.5 hours each morning and afternoon peak period.

As an example of how commutes will be improved, county officials said residents can compare it to when schools are on recess. During school recess, traffic congestion is reduced by 4 percent.

Using that as a reference, county officials said traffic at Southwest 82nd Avenue and Southwest 168th Street would be reduced by 40 percent. At the intersection of Southwest 87th Avenue and 168th Street, there would be a 10 percent reduction.

The project, one of 12 road improvement projects the county wants to initiate in 2018, is estimated to cost about $1.9 million.

“Is Waze or Google Maps factored in? If you can’t tell me how those routes will impact the traffic, then you don’t have an accurate study in my opinion,” Atkison said, noting that drivers use the apps to cut through back roads to avoid bumper-to-bumper congestion on main roads.

The study does not take into account traffic and navigation app activity, said Frank Guyamier, the lead traffic engineer for the county’s Transportation and Public Works department.

The proposal, which has been debated for decades, has recently sparked controversy in several communities across South Dade. A growing number of critics have continued to show concern about the project creating a major thoroughfare through residential neighborhoods.

Yet still, many support it.

Because the stretch of the canal — which runs east to west — blocks drivers going north and south, drivers are forced to take circuitous routes on residential streets to get to the other side of the canal. Although the bridge would benefit drivers who need a straight shot across, for the immediate neighborhood, it would simply shift the traffic from one two-lane street to another, residents say.

For the past few months, homeowner Bill Kestel has conducted a campaign, “Build the Bridge.” Every workday morning, Kestel, sporting a neon safety vest, stands along 164th Street passing out fliers to drivers traveling north. On most work days, drivers can take up to 40 minutes to travel a mere five blocks.

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Palmetto Bay resident Bill Kestel stands alongside Southwest 87th Avenue near Southwest 164th Street in December 2017 during morning rush hour. MONIQUE O. MADAN

“I know the bridge is not the end-all, or the ultimate solution,” said Kestel, who lives on Southwest 83rd Avenue, a road that drivers use to get to the other side of the canal. “But it’s a start. There’s no reason 87th Avenue, a major arterial road, shouldn’t warrant a bridge that has been in the plans for so long.”

At first, Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava was leaning toward voting for the project, but then shifted her thoughts. Cava, who represents several pockets of South Dade, will cast one of the 20 votes on Thursday.

“The data from [the Department of Public Works] showed a significant reduction in congestion, if a bridge is built, and significant reduction in cut-through traffic for some of the most congested areas of Palmetto Bay,” Cava said in a preliminary email to the Miami Herald in early December. “The decision to move forward with the bridge, I am persuaded, is necessary to improve traffic flow.”

Less than four weeks later, Cava sent out follow-up statement opposing the project. She says that after talking to additional transportation experts, the bridge would only bring a “short-term, incremental gain — not a long-term or sustained solution.”

“After full deliberation I determined that I cannot support construction of the bridge at this time. I am greatly concerned that the solution proposed will harm the quality of life for many, while providing only partial, temporary relief for those who currently suffer intolerable traffic congestion in their neighborhoods,” she said in an email earlier this month. On Monday, she told the Herald she believes the county’s studies are incomplete.

“They don’t fully take into account the people who will flock to that intersection after seeing the new route on the traffic apps,” Cava said. “What we need to focus on is new and emerging modes of transportation, along with a greater focus on quality of life in all neighborhoods across the county.”

The problem of obstructed roads began in the mid-1900s, when Miami-Dade County constructed a series of zigzagging canals to control flooding. The canals snake through neighborhoods, and for decades, they have dictated where roads, homes and developments are built on the county grid.

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Will building a bridge over 87th Avenue be the answer to drivers’ traffic headaches? A block party was held Sunday to oppose the idea. Pictured from left to right are: Andrea Anido, 7, and Mia Puente, 6. MONIQUE O. MADAN

The narrow waterways, some of which begin along the edge of the Everglades, ultimately stream into Biscayne Bay. As the region’s population has increased, the canals have become major obstacles to traffic flow in residential communities with no sidewalks.

But if you had asked the 600 or so people who were at Sunday’s block party, a bridge isn’t the answer.

As parents lined up to sign a petition, their children created their own “Block the Bridge” bumper stickers.

With a scarlet marker in hand, 7-year-old Andrea Anido told the Miami Herald, “I just want to be able to run and play outside. If the bridge comes, my grandpa says I’ll be inside because I could get run over by a fast car.”

The proposed bridge will go for a final vote before the Miami-Dade TPO Governing Board at 2 p.m. Thursday at 111 NW First St.

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan

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