Designers suggest putting Interstate 395 underground, surrounding it with 41 acres of parkland
By Frank Norton
Downtown Miami's corridor along Interstate 395 could become 41 acres of parkland shrouding a below-ground expressway in about 10 years, according to experts hired to reinvent the area's landscape.
Leading the effort is Kimley-Horn & Associates, a North Carolina-based design and engineering firm contracted by the Metropolitan Planning Organization to improve traffic flow along the east-west expressway and reconnect the downtown neighborhoods that line its shoulders.
That would mean razing I-395 and rerouting it through an open-cut trench stretching from Interstate 95 east to the MacArthur Causeway, according to a plan Kimley-Horn unveiled to local planners last week. The concept aims to reconnect the north and south parts of the city with pedestrian-friendly roadways crossing over high-speed east- and westbound traffic.
"It's a well-rounded and holistic approach to a very complex transportation issue," said Clark Turner, transportation planner for the City of Miami.
"They put transportation in the context of an urban redevelopment that links the downtown core and the north area - essential if you're going to spend that kind of money," he said.
Preliminary construction costs for the project are estimated at $525 million over five to six years, said Steven Lefton, a landscape architect and urban planner with Kimley-Horn.
"It would bring a true green-fare to the downtown - an emerald necklace for the city of Miami," he told a committee of local planners and politicians including Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who praised the plan as his "preferred alternative."
Several plans for the redevelopment of I-395 have been proposed, and some are still under consideration. The Kimley-Horn plan draws heavily on one spearheaded by Jorge Espinel of Miami Urban Watch.
While Kimley-Horn's Central Park-style design does not maximize the amount of developable land in the area, Mr. Lefton said, it does raise prospects for appreciation of land values in the adjacent north and south neighborhoods.
Kimley-Horn estimated the city could borrow about $300 million against expected increases in tax revenue - or nearly 60% of the total estimated cost of the project.
Mr. Lefton and other planners said those figures are within reason since redevelopment of the area into park space would send property values skyrocketing.
"The most expensive real estate in Manhattan is not on the Hudson, not on the East River and not on the waterfront at all - it's on Central Park," he said. "So rather than build on every square foot of possible land, let's provide amenities that will increase adjacent property values."
Dawn Soper of Integra Realty Resources, working on the project with Kimley-Horn, said any successful redevelopment of northern downtown depends on removing the physical and psychological barriers created by the I-395 overpass.
"Take away the perceptions, and private equity will follow," she told the planning committee.
Kimley-Horn is to present its plan to the Metropolitan Planning Organization next month and possibly to the full city commission June 25, said Jesus Guerra, project manager for the organization, which stewards Miami-Dade County's transportation and urban planning projects.
If plans win local support, he said, a design and engineering study would follow, with construction beginning possibly in 2008.