Ballpark plans must overcome traffic problems
By Risa Polansky
Neighborhood traffic congestion, meager on-site parking options and a lack of area mass transit could pose problems for the new Florida Marlins stadium should it be built at the site of the Orange Bowl, experts say.
But there are ways to accommodate.
HNTB, a consultant to the City of Miami, is recommending in a draft report to the city and the Marlins eight improvements totaling more than $12 million to equip the area for handling transportation issues likely to come with building a new ballpark on the property.
Topping the list is creating a $7.8 million reversible roadway loop around the area bounded by Southwest First Street, Northwest 12th Avenue, Northwest 12th Street and Northwest 17th Avenue.
The electronically controlled route would direct traffic in different directions at different times to allow game goers to travel smoothly, and in large numbers, in and out of the vicinity.
It would mean making Northwest 17th Avenue a one-way southbound road, Northwest 12th Avenue one way northbound from Northwest 12th Street to Southwest First Street; Northwest 12th Street and Northwest Seventh Street one way westbound; and Northwest Third Street one way eastbound during game arrival and departure hours.
The traffic report recommends also closing off a small inner ring of streets, allowing access only to season ticket holders, prepaid parking patrons and local residents; protecting residents through a permit parking program; and implementing a "way finding" system on all major highways, main roads and local streets to direct stadium visitors to parking areas.
Identifying offsite parking facilities and providing free shuttle service to the stadium is a must, the report says, recommending the Civic Center area, Flagler Dog Track and the western areas of downtown as possible sites.
It suggests dedicating a public transit lane as part of the loop road system; encouraging Miami-Dade Transit to "maintain, advertise and enhance" bus service from areas such as Florida International University, Golden Glades and the University of Miami; and restructuring Metrorail and bus schedules to ensure only five minutes pass between each train or bus as patrons leave games.
Who would pay for the projects, and how, remains uncertain, City Manager Pete Hernandez said.
Transportation and other issues of "associated costs" outside of the actual construction of the stadium, he said, are to be discussed during further negotiations.
Still, building the stadium in place of the Orange Bowl "is a feasible concept," said Jose Gonzalez, assistant transportation coordinator for the city. "The study didn't identify any fatal flaws. That site is functional as a stadium today."
But the lack of on-site mass transit options poses a problem, said Jose Luis Mesa, director of Miami-Dade County's Metropolitan Planning Organization.
"If you look at any city that has stadiums that are very viable, many of them have transit stations, mass transit," he said.
Transportation officials had long considered "having a (Metrorail) stop near the Orange Bowl," he said. "However, that plan was changed. It's no longer an option to put a rail there that would be any time soon."
To compensate, he said, there "would have to be more of a shuttle service to the rail."
The nearest Metrorail station to the site is the Civic Center, according to the study.
It suggests a shuttle bus connector transfer visitors from the station to the stadium.
The closest Tri-Rail station is more than three miles from the site, near Miami International Airport, the study says, with four Metrobus connecting routes.
But, Mr. Mesa said, "you have to understand you can't put as many people on a bus as you can on a train."
The Orange Bowl site is "viable," said County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, but not optimum "mainly due to transportation issues."
The lack of mass transit, he said, means visitors will "have to get in the car and go to the game."
But this could prove a blessing to commuters on local expressways, said Alfred Lurigados, director of engineering for the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority.
He sees games "keeping people down in the center (of Miami) later, then they leave at 9 or 10 at night, and there's not much traffic."
Downtown workers are more likely to stay close than try to commute home via the expressways before a game, he said. "During peak hours, when you have a night game, you'll have thousands of people staying in that area."
It would "stagger the times when people actually go home," he said. "Kind of what we've all been trying to do" through measures such as encouraging employers to enact off-peak work hours.
However, he added, "it all depends on the type of attendance."
The study projects about 25,485 baseball attendees on average, with other events drawing about 9,700 people at a time.
"Proper planning for the traffic in the zone of the Orange Bowl, the arterial roadways, is important," Mr. Lurigados said. But, "there are a lot of positives that people aren't thinking about."