Alvarez pushes for toll flyovers, stadium in State of County speech
By Dan Dolan
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez proposed a new system of elevated toll roads, creation of a special panel to help convicts and a bounty on illegal handguns during his annual State of the County Address on Tuesday at the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts.
Mr. Alvarez also endorsed plans to build a baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins in downtown Miami and the $1.3 billion Port of Miami tunnel project.
He also said he intends to clean up the county's troubled housing authority, which is being threatened with a federal takeover.
In an hour-long speech several other elected officials said was short on details, the mayor called for construction of elevated toll lanes on Interstate 95 that would give "motorists the option of paying for travel with greater ease during peak hours."
He also called for the county to speed travel by abandoning traditional toll plazas on the Gratigny Parkway and the Don Shula and Dolphin expressways.
"These ideas have proven to work elsewhere and can work here, too," said Mr. Alvarez.
He also said he wants to "move forward with our Metrorail expansion plans." County government, he said, should be committed to improving the quality of life in Miami-Dade.
Mr. Alvarez said he is forming a Prisoner Re-entry Council of civic and business leaders to help convicts build new lives.
"The fact is that when people with criminal records can turn their lives around, we all win," Mr. Alvarez said. "Our families, our neighborhoods and our county's economy all benefit when formerly incarcerated individuals achieve independence and lead healthy, responsible, crime-free lives."
The mayor, a former Miami-Dade's police director, promised to crack down on crime. He said lawmen would increase their efforts to take gangs, drugs and guns off the streets.
"For the first time ever in Miami-Dade County, we're implementing a gun-bounty program," Mr. Alvarez said. "The concept is simple: Turn in someone with an illegal gun and get a reward."
Mr. Alvarez said a downtown Miami baseball stadium would have economic rewards for the county. Local government officials and Major League Baseball executives are working out details of a $500 million proposal, he said.
"We need to close this deal and make a permanent place in Miami-Dade County for the Florida Marlins," the mayor said. "But I don't intend to sell the farm to keep the Marlins here. My commitment is based on a number of factors, including a financial commitment from team owners."
Mr. Alvarez said financial concerns shouldn't torpedo the proposed Port of Miami tunnel, which would ease downtown traffic congestion and help truckers get their freight to market quicker. Despite a high price tag, he said, the project is vital to the county's economy.
Housing also affects Miami-Dade's economic health, Mr. Alvarez said. He promised a top-to-bottom review of the troubled housing agency and said 1,000 new low-income rental units would be available by year's end.
Mr. Alvarez called for new ethics laws governing public employees and elected officials. He also asked for the county commission to embrace new controls on lobbyists but provided no specifics.
Throughout his talk, the 11 county commissioners in the audience applauded politely. Commissioners Natacha Seijas and Javier Souto didn't attend. The commissioners, who have been in a power struggle with the mayor, said they had positive reactions to Mr. Alvarez' address.
"This is was a very hopeful speech that helps us look forward," Commissioner Sally Heyman said. "I'm looking forward to hearing the details on all these proposals. We're past the point of who gets credit for what. It's time to get things done."