Fabiola Santiago

Florida’s DOT has a plan for us: Cars flying over our heads on the Palmetto. Genius! | Opinion

Overturned boat and trailer snarls traffic on southbound lanes of Palmetto

Two southbound lanes of the Palmetto expressway near NW 36th street were blocked by an overturned boat and trailer on May 5, 2016.
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Two southbound lanes of the Palmetto expressway near NW 36th street were blocked by an overturned boat and trailer on May 5, 2016.

We were promised Metrorail expansion.

We were promised new, clean, reliable rail cars.

We were promised innovation in public transit to accommodate the massive density that’s turning Miami-Dade into a worse version of New York City without the infrastructure in place.

Forget about it.

No relief is in sight for stressed-out commuters and taxpayers, but here’s what the future looks like for those of us who travel along the Palmetto Expressway, courtesy of the Florida Department of Transportation.

You can look forward to more construction coming to one of the most congested roads in the county if the state implements a new plan to build double-decker toll lanes on the Palmetto from State Road 836 to South Dade. You read that right: a two-story highway in lieu of the long-awaited and wished-for rail expansion.

Yes, the plan is to keep the Palmetto perennially under construction. You’ve seen the meme: “Build A Wall…? How About We Finish the Palmetto First.”

Yes, the motto continues to be “pay to drive, Florida suckers.” Because all that expansion of South Florida roads begets is more traffic. They’re always a precursor to packing on more development.

Rural South Dade, they’re coming for you.

There’s allegedly no money to expand rail south or anywhere else, but plenty of it to be had by the construction industry that funds political campaigns all over Florida. Rail needs better-funded lobbyists. That much is clear.

And there’s no pity for the folks who predominantly drive on the Palmetto. No thought has been given to the fact that this is a working-class highway – not a gateway to Key Biscayne. All you need to do is drive it everyday to see that it’s Toyota, Honda, Ford, and truck city.

per0726expressway
Traffic is regularly clogged on the Palmetto Expressway, and Florida may create a double-decker toll system to try and reduce congestion. C.M. GUERRERO EL NUEVO HERALD

The DOT “improvement” plan, however, is for rich folks.

Only people with the money to pay hefty tolls day in and day out will get to use a flyover and bypass traffic while the rest sit on the parking lot that is the Palmetto Expressway most of the time.

At least now, we all sit together – and don’t have to pay for the treat.

But the state thinks that the answer to traffic woes between 836, already a toll road managed by the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, and South Dade is to stack another expensive highway on top of busy, accident-prone Palmetto.

836 viaduct.jpg
A rendering of the proposed “viaduct,” an elevated highway over the existing 836 that allows motorists to bypass some local exits as part of the new I-395 “signature bridge” project in downtown Miami.

One that will be expensive – and significantly disruptive – to build.

The nickname “Lexus lanes” is right.

None of these alleged traffic solutions are affordable in a county where the average household income is $44,937, according to the housing department.

To the east, I-95 has toll express lanes. More toll lanes are now under construction along the 25 miles of the Palmetto from Northwest 17th Avenue to the west and south to Dixie Highway. That work that is projected to go on until 2031, according to DOT’s project overview.

Now, bring on the double-decker proposal – and most of us will be six feet under before any of it is completed.

It’s another cockamamie idea, so much so that TriRail used it on Twitter to promote its service, asking: “Which double-decker would you rather ride on?”

But crazy has never stopped anyone around here.

We can only hope that this flyover isn’t built by the same people who gave us the allegedly sturdy FIU bridge over Tamiami Trail that killed six people and injured eight when it collapsed a year ago. Driving under any stretch of concrete hasn’t been the same since our community lived through that tragedy. And now the state is proposing that we – literally – drive with flying cars over our heads.

But maybe, just maybe, this expensive pie-in-the-sky road is pure genius.

When sea levels rise, the top deck may become the only Palmetto Expressway.

In climate-change speak, that’s what you call resiliency!

It could be grand, really, the Palmetto as monument to our endurance, ensuring that our legacy of car dependency lasts at least until Miami-Dade turns into Atlantis.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
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