Committee formed to study highway rehab, Port of Miami tunnel
By Jennifer Miller
Miami-Dade County commissioners have approved formation of a committee of government and transportation officials to map out a $545 million financial plan to reconstruct State Road 836 and Interstate 395 and dig a four-lane tunnel under the bay from the MacArthur Causeway to the Port of Miami.
Officials from the Florida Department of Transportation, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, Port of Miami and Turnpike Authority will deliberate for six months with members of the public works departments for the county, Miami and Miami Beach.
Commissioner Bruno Barreiro will oversee the effort and present a progress report Sept. 21 to the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees transportation planning for the county.
The decision marks the end of dozens of technical road improvement studies and the beginning of a course of action, said Jose Abreu, district secretary for the Miami-Dade Department of Transportation.
Mr. Abreu said the county is losing $7 million a year from accidents caused by congested roads.
"At some point in time we're going to have to do something," he said. "I've got $1.2 million worth of studies in my drawer. We've got the best plans of any city, but our problem is we can't implement them."
Planning began in the early '80s, Mr. Abreu said, when the district got $10 million to study and create a framework for the now recently built port bridge and a proposed tunnel.
Now, he said, $7 million is left for construction drawings. Although the money is not enough for in-depth sketches, he said, it does allow for creation of guidelines.
Re-constructing I-395 and SR 836 was suggested by Florida Highway Administration officials, who say a tunnel would not relieve congestion if 50-year-old roads nearby are not updated, Mr. Abreu said.
Last week he presented several options for highway renovations to commissioners, including a double-deck highway and a $6.5 million "midtown roundabout" that would knock down two schools and destroy two parks.
Commissioners instead gave the green light to a project called "an elevated alternative" that would add three continuous eastbound and westbound lanes on I-395. It also calls for connections to I-95 north and south without disrupting the surrounding area, according to maps.
Blueprints show the roads would be flatter to provide better line-of-sight for drivers, say proponents, and create separate paths to I-95 north and SR 836 for those exiting to South Beach lowering chances of collisions.
The tunnel, Mr. Abreu said, would begin east of the Intercoastal Bridge on the MacArthur Causeway. Under water, it would run below Watson Island, curve under Government Cut and come up in the Port of Miami on Dodge Island.
Some want to make it an exclusive truck tunnel, Mr. Abreu said, but for now no decisions have been made. He said a long-range transportation plan would set SR 836 completion for 2010, while I-395 and the tunnel would be finished five years after that, at the earliest.
Miami Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr., a member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, said it seemed the transportation officer was screaming for no more studies.
"This was an uncharacteristic bottom-line presentation," Mr. Teele said. "The cities, county, Metropolitan Planning Organization and others have not really made a lot of hard decisions and usually ask for other studies."
In the meantime, officials say they hope groups such as the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and the Florida Department of Transportation can figure out how to bear the enormous costs of the project.
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