Fight for wider road to Keys is gathering momentum
By Victor Cruz
Taking a cue from the Metropolitan Planning Organization, activists are preparing to challenge what they say is an inadequate proposal for widening US 1 to the Florida Keys.
In August, following "an exhaustive evaluation of options" and a decision by Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Tom Barry selected a road-widening option of two-lanes on a three-lane embankment for a critical stretch between Florida City and Key Largo. Two-thirds of this section is in Miami-Dade.
The selected option calls for two lanes with a wide, paved shoulder on the northbound side that could be converted to an additional travel lane during emergencies, state records show.
But the Miami-Dade Planning Organization, charged with administering the county's transportation master plan, and others want a wider expanse.
The road now has one lane in each direction.
In March, planners voted 16-1 in favor of an option calling for three lanes on a four-lane embankment. In spite of the state's choice of the narrower option, the planners earlier this month reaffirmed their preference for the wider one.
Now, five residents with interests in Key West, Marathon and Key Largo are joining the push for three lanes on a four-lane embankment between Florida City and Key Largo.
Norman Wartman, a businessman who lives in Miami-Dade and owns property in Key Largo, said he is prepared to lead a three-pronged attack on what he calls the state's insufficient road-widening plan.
Mr. Wartman, along with Jack Martin of the Key West Chamber of Commerce, and chamber attorney David Paul Horan, Key West Commissioner Ed Scales and Marathon Councilman Jon Johnson said supporters of the more ambitious plan have a good chance at winning a reversal from the state.
Mr. Wartman said he would - with or without Miami-Dade's help - file a challenge as soon as possible to a recent Department of Community Affairs decision that the state-supported plan would allow folks in the Keys to clear out fast enough during storms.
With several county commissioners sitting on the planning organization and supporting the more aggressive widening plan, it seems likely that the county would support a challenge to Secretary Barry's decision.
Planning Organization Director Jose Mesa, said his staff is reviewing the possibility of an administrative challenge, but a decision has not been made.
Mr. Wartman said he would also work with the Miami-Dade county attorney's office and others to find funds to pay for the challenge, which he said could cost up to $200,000.
Other fronts on which the activists may challenge the state decision include filing a lawsuit over safety issues against the state Department of Transportation and lobbying state legislators to make the road-widening proposal part of a state bill.
Mayor Martinez said that the narrower road-widening option is the result of resistance from "the upper Keys" where residents don't want to see Miami-Dade County descend into their area.
"They don't want 'day-trippers' or 'Dade-trippers' is what I'm getting from the Keys," Mayor Martinez said.
He said he sees the successful passing of the reaffirmation of the wider expansion as backup to the administrative challenge or lawsuit.
While state officials said the Department of Transportation is poised to seek permits and pull contracts "as soon as possible" and is seeking to identify funds, Mr. Warton said he is confident there is plenty of time to gain a reversal.