Transportation study under way to find trouble spots
By Paola Iuspa
Downtown Miami is on the way to adopting a transportation master plan that will pinpoint areas prone to traffic jams and help local planners identify solutions, experts said.
The Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization, the City of Miami and the Florida Department of Transportation are each pitching in $200,000 for a 14-month study that is scheduled to be finished in March and will lead to the creation of a master plan.
The agency will use the plan and share study recommendations with other agencies, which eventually could be asked to finance projects aimed at solving current and future problems.
"We don't want to be just a source of funding to fix traffic congestion," said David Rosemond, spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation. "We want to offer our expertise as well."
Some traffic problems are concentrated around the seaport, where cars and tankers compete for the roads, said Frank Baron, a transportation specialist.
For Timothy Plummer, president of David Plummer & Associates hired in January and responsible for the study, which was started three months ago a problem lies in access routes to Watson Island.
His study could result in a series of recommendations and alternatives that officials could opt to follow with assistance from the other agencies, Mr. Plummer said.
It would be the first time the Metropolitan Planning Organization would have a transportation master plan for the downtown area, Mr. Baron said. There is a countywide, long-range transportation master plan that looks at all areas equally, he said.
As more residents move into Brickell Avenue high-rises, construction fills up the last vacant parcels of Miami's waterfront, more trucks head in and out of the seaport and high-tech office buildings promise to bring new businesses, traffic will worsen, Mr. Baron said.
"The master plan would help us put our priorities in order," he said. "It would help us improve our community by coming up with strategies" to smooth the impact development has on traffic.
Boundaries of this plan include the area from I-195 westbound to the airport on the north and to Southwest 26th Road on the south. The eastern boundary will be Biscayne Bay and the western border will be I-95.
Port of Miami and Claughton Island will be included. Other issues to be analyzed are the need for pedestrian crossings, new MetroMover and MetroRail stations and other mass transit alternatives, Mr. Plummer said.
"We will evaluate the transportation system as it is today and try to come up with other options," he said. "For example, one recommendation could be using the port tunnel to alleviate Biscayne Boulevard from the port traffic. We could recommend the county to look for the necessary funding for the tunnel," Mr. Plummer said, referring to a proposed $400 million, four-lane tunnel that connecting Port of Miami with I-395 at Watson Island.
The tunnel was approved in December by the federal government.
Mr. Baron said another area considered a downtown focal point was the area north of the Miami River, between South Miami Avenue and Northeast First Street, where the county could build a baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins if a financing plan is approved.
"Games will go from April to October," Mr. Baron said. "I think they will have about 81 games, and maybe some play-off games. The rest of the year it will lie semi-dormant. Once the season starts it will have an impact on the surrounding area and we need" to come up with a master plan that address that kind of issues.
Mr. Plummer said previous studies on traffic conducted by the Port of Miami, the Downtown Development Authority and other local agencies will be taken into consideration.
Mr. Baron said the master plan will be a living document that can be modified as demographics change.
It will collect data on the location of current traffic signals, parking lots, routes, bridges, intersections, traffic volume, signs and more to feed a $11,000 traffic simulation software program the Metropolitan Planning Organization hopes to buy once the study is complete, Mr. Baron said.
The software would allow planners to do virtual road changes on the computer screen before doing them on the road and see how those changes would affect the actual traffic flow, he said.
"We will create a model for downtown that you can alter and predict the changes," he said. "It will be like a video game where you can see the cars and the traffic lights on a screen."
Mr. Plummer said he planned to hold public meetings so people could give their opinions while the master plan is on the drawing table.
The first series of public meetings for residents of the Omni, Park West, Brickell area and the downtown commercial district lacked attendance Monday at the downtown campus of Miami-Dade Community College. David Rosemond, the spokesman for the Department of Transportation, and in charge of organizing the meetings, said he would hold future public forums at locations within each neighborhood in the master plan area.
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