Tomorrow the Miami-Dade County Commission will meet to vote on whether to extend the 836 (aka the Dolphin Expressway) about 14 miles to the southwest (exact route still TBD).
Right now Kendall residents have to slog through several miles of bumper-to-bumper gridlock on roads like Kendall Drive before they can hop on a highway that will take them to their jobs north and east.
Miami-Dade County’s proposed solution is a highway extension – one that will be built past the county’s urban development boundary, through wetlands that supply drinking water and help with flood control.
What the commission decides tomorrow is about a lot more than the highway extension. It will also say a lot about what kind of development Miami can expect in the future.
WHY PEOPLE SUPPORT THE HIGHWAY EXTENSION
Supporters point to southwest Miami-Dade residents’ desperate need to get out of gridlock. Time is money, and those residents are losing a ton of time stuck behind their steering wheels every weekday.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is one of the biggest supporters of the extension (here’s his full op-ed in the Miami Herald on why). The situation Kendall residents face is totally unsustainable, he says, and only a highway extension can ease their pain.
WHY PEOPLE OPPOSE THE EXTENSION
Opponents argue that building a highway may ease the traffic in the short-term, but in the long run, it will encourage even more sprawl, which means more people and more cars trying to make the same commute. A highway extension is only a short-term fix.
They’re pushing hard for the county to take some meaningful steps toward reducing our dependence on cars and investing in transit to Kendall instead. Read an op-ed that dives into the argument against the extension here.
On top of the smart growth argument, there’s the environmental one. Whatever route the highway extension takes, it will encroach on wetlands that supply drinking water, help with flood control, provide a habitat for many animals, and feed other parts of the Everglades. This Herald story has the details.
And there’s one more thing: the highway will have to be built beyond the urban development boundary.
RIGHT, SO WHAT’S THE URBAN DEVELOPMENT BOUNDARY?
The UDB is an imaginary line drawn along the western and southern edge of Miami-Dade County. There can’t be any development beyond the UDB. It’s meant to protect the Everglades, which begin just west of it. It’s been amended (a.k.a. moved south and west) dozens of times since it was created in 1976.
Environmentalists worry that allowing the highway to be built past it makes it more likely that the county commission will later approve totally extending the UDB, allowing even more significant development out there. Moving it requires a two-thirds vote. (But that’s not on the table at this point.)
OK, SO WHAT’S HAPPENING TOMORROW?
A meeting on the Comprehensive Development Master Plan. The commission will be voting on two amendments to the CDMP that would allow the highway extension to be built.
If the amendments pass, the proposal gets kicked up to the state government. If they approve it, it comes back to the county commission for a second hearing and final approval.
If the amendments fail, that kills the project, at least for now. But the traffic pressure is so great that it’s probably not the last time this will come up.
I’VE GOT FEELINGS ABOUT THIS. WHAT CAN I DO?
You can attend the meeting tomorrow, which begins at 9 a.m. in the county commission chambers (111 N.W. 1st Street, 2nd floor). There will be time for public comment in support and opposition to the amendments.
Given the strong government support in favor of the extension, there hasn’t been a ton of organizing in support of it, although there is a petition supporting it here.
But if you’re opposed to the amendment, you can link up with smart growth group Transit Alliance Miami – the ones behind “Another Sexy Highway” – or environmental groups like Friends of the Everglades, Audubon Florida, and Catalyst Miami, all of whom have been vocal opponents. You can also call your county commissioners.