Miami-Dade Expressway plan includes western extension for SR 836, new north-south highway
By Susan Stabley
An extension of the Dolphin Expressway west of the Turnpike, mapping a new 8-mile north-south corridor and requiring electronic passes instead of coin tolls are all part of a five-year, $965 million plan for Miami-Dade County expressways.
"This is the year where it really starts to take off," said Allen Harper, chairman of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority's board. For fiscal 2003, $104.43 million has been set aside for 27 capital improvement projects, according to the plan, including:
nA major westward extension to the Dolphin Expressway (State Road 836) - from Northwest 107th Avenue to Northwest 137th Avenue.
nPreparations for a new north-south corridor - the Central Parkway - parallel and in-between the Palmetto Expressway and Interstate 95 running from the Gratigny Parkway to the Airport Expressway.
nDevelopment of an interconnector from the Dolphin to the Airport Expressway (State Road 112) that will be linked to a proposed transportation hub, the $2.25 billion Miami Intermodal Center, and Miami International Airport. The Airport Expressway/Northwest 36th Street/LeJeune Road interchange will be reconstructed and land acquired for the proposed road to extend from the Airport Expressway to Northwest 25th Street.
The work is essential to alleviate congestion in the county, officials say. Expressway Authority Executive Director Servando Parapar said Miami's double-digit growth can be either be a "blessing or a curse."
Every day, more than a half-million commuters ride the five expressways the authority operates and maintains: the Dolphin (State Road 836), the South Dade Don Shula (SR 874), the Airport (SR 112), the Gratigny Parkway (SR 924), and the Snapper Creek (SR 878). All but Snapper Creek charge tolls.
Highway crowding worsens as more people equals additional cars sharing the roadways, especially since more than 90% of vehicles in South Florida - what Mr. Parapar calls portable "living rooms" - contain only one occupant, he said
A January study by Coral Gables-based Washington Economics Group cited numbers from an Urban Mobility Study that rated Miami-Dade 14th highest in total congestion costs among 68 urban areas, with traffic problems causing $1.49 billion in extra expenses for residents and industries. Miami-Dade is 15th highest in annual hours of delay and 16th highest in added fuel costs from congestion, according to the same study.
Mr. Harper called the Washington Economics Group study "optimistic" and said he's seen studies that ranked Miami fourth worst-congested city in the nation.
Traffic snarls may be pesky at best for commuters, but for businesses needing to transport goods in and out of the airport and seaport, Miami, geographically trapped between the ocean and a swamp, might not be worth the wait, Mr. Harper said.
"It's a degradation of our quality of life," Mr. Harper said. "We can't afford to let it get worse."
Overall, the authority envisions $2.75 billion spent in the next 20 years, according to its 2001 annual report.
The five-year plan, from 2003 to 2007, has three phases - project development, purchasing land and construction. Project development accounts for $14.7 million or 14% of the '03 money. In many cases, the authority will employ an approach called "design/build" to expedite projects. This allows a contractor to move ahead instead of waiting for the plans to be finished before starting any work.
The authority plans to buy $29.6 million in land for four of the '03 projects, more than a quarter of costs programmed for this year.
Most of the land needed for the new north-south expressway follows along or above an existing railroad corridor. Mr. Parapar said
The authority is now securing environmental clearance for the Central Parkway, its sixth expressway, an 8-mile toll road with limited access. Interchanges are proposed at Northwest 54th, 79th and 103rd streets. The expressway would also link to the airport "interconnector" at the Airport and Dolphin expressways.
Only users of SunPass, a prepaid electric toll collection system used statewide, could use the Central Parkway, officials propose. Called "open road tolling," the concept prevents delays from drivers having to slow or stop to pay at toll booths. SunPasses may also be the only way to pay for use of the Dolphin Expressway extension, Mr. Parapar said.
The four-lane Dolphin extension west of Florida's Turnpike - and the Dolphin Mall - is expected to be finished by '06. If traffic demands warrant it, two lanes might be added, said engineering director Sam Gonzalez. Otherwise, the lanes will be added in the latter half of the 2020 master plan.
The goal of the extension is to drain delay out of the Palmetto Expressway. At peak hours, Mr. Gonzalez estimated, waiting times are 15 to 30 minutes for drivers traveling about 21/2 miles to the Turnpike.
Changes along all of the Dolphin include: replacement of a ramp bridge connecting westbound Dolphin expressway to the Turnpike headed south; building a new bridge over the extension at Northwest 107th Avenue; adding express lanes, and the widening of the Flagler Street bridge. Improvements will be made to the Dolphin from Northwest 87th to 107th avenues.
Mr. Gonzalez said the authority cut costs $25 million by routing under the Turnpike instead of building bridges over the Florida Department of Transportation roadway.
In connection to construction of a toll plaza called "The Wing" and an auxiliary tollbooth at Northwest 17th Avenue, upgrades to Northwest Ninth Street included drainage, sidewalks, curb and gutter, water lines and upgraded sewer system. By community request, the road was reconstructed as a one-way, Mr. Gonzalez said. The authority is now completing the landscaping.
Other projects under way include:
Contracting for design of a northbound ramp from Kendall Drive to the Don Shula Expressway.
nAdding auxiliary lanes along the Dolphin westbound from Northwest 57th to 72nd avenues in late 2003. That should take about 15 months, Mr. Gonzalez said.
Installing fiber-optic cables and cameras to connect to authority headquarters as part of its Intelligent Transportation System. The project is under procurement as a "design/build" and should start in summer 2003 and end in spring 2004.
Completing a westbound off-ramp Airport Expressway to Okeechobee Road at Northwest 32nd Avenue to Southeast 9th Court in November 2003.