Engineers recommend moving I-395 below ground through downtown Miami
By Frank Norton
County-commissioned engineers will recommend demolishing Interstate 395 and running the east-west expressway below ground where its elevated ramps now bisect downtown Miami.
In November, North Carolina-based Kimley-Horn & Associates will present their so-called "open-cut" solution to the traffic and urban design malaise caused by the road's design and its location.
The firm will recommend depressing the six-lane expressway through an open-air trench between I-95 and the MacArthur Causeway, and running local traffic overhead on covered cross-sections above the dugout, said a representative of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization, responsible for developing Miami-Dade County's transportation programs.
"My number-one issue is the overhead and what it has done to the community," said Miami Mayor Manny Diaz of the ramped expressway. "I don't think there's a project we could get our hands around that will have more lasting impact on the life of this community."
The designs haven't yet been presented to county and city planners, but the Metropolitan Planning Organization last week commissioned an additional financial study of the unveiled proposal as well as various alternatives.
"We're working on a plan that will satisfy all the needs of the community in terms of traffic and in terms of city planning," said planning organization project manager Jesus Guerra.
He said if the Kimley-Horn proposal gains popularity among the planning organization's members, other stakeholders including the Florida Department of Transportation will be able to help push the process forward. That will ultimately involve a lengthy state review on environmental impact.
"But the first step is the giant step in all this and that is getting the consensus of the committee," he said.
Progress on improving the expressway and its blighted urban corridor has been on hold eight years while planners debated design alternatives.
Kimley-Horn's "open-cut" proposal draws heavily on a design spearheaded by architect and urban planner Jorge Espinel, whose approach to the issue captured attention among residents, planners and elected officials.
Mr. Espinel, who also sits on the I-395 committee, insists that whichever plans are approved, the city or county must buy the corridor's land now while it is relatively cheap. He and several developers say the mere hint of development in the area would drive up the value of parcels recuperated from under the expressway and help finance the project.
Mayor Diaz, who co-chairs the I-395 subcommittee with county commission Chair Barbara Carey-Shuler, asked that potential land appreciation be factored into the latest financial study, due before summer 2003.
He said gains from land appreciation could be a critical element to financing such a mammoth undertaking.
During last week's subcommittee meeting, Mayor Diaz said he'd like to expedite the process as much as possible. "I like committees that disappear."