County Panel Approves Plan To Reroute I395
By Shannon Pettypiece
Despite fears, doubts and mistrust about rerouting Interstate 395, Miami-Dade County’s transportation board approved a plan to bring down the elevated expressway and straighten out the curve by pushing the road north several blocks.
Members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization at a meeting last week tried to quell concerns of residents who will be affected by the project and told them that approval of the plan is only the first step in a long process of determining whether it will be feasible.
"We are not saying this is the plan that is going to take effect. What we are saying is that this plan will be studied," said board member Ronald Krongold. "To move the government forward, you have to start somewhere."
The plan calls for demolishing the portion of I-395 that arches above Overtown and building a wider expressway underground that provides a straight shot between I-95 and the causeway. The new route was selected by a group of officials including Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and Miami-Dade County Commission Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler.
The Florida Department of Transportation determined in the 1990s that there are safety problems with the interstate and it is not wide enough to deal with increasing traffic, forcing officials to select an alternate route that would accommodate heavier traffic.
The highway connects Interstate 95 to the MacArthur Causeway and Miami Beach and has been blamed by many for displacing hundreds of Overtown residents and dozens of businesses in the predominately black neighborhood when the highway was built in the 1960s.
But while many residents of Overtown and neighboring areas want the overpass to come down, they are afraid the planned new route would further divide the community and displace hundreds of older, low-income residents.
"We don’t want to be represented as a lot of angry people. We understand that Overtown needs change," said Overtown resident Evelyn Johnson. "Change is coming. This is the time when Overtown is the center of attention, and why should we be shipped out? … I love Overtown, believe it or not."
Consultants who designed the plan said low-income housing would be built in the neighborhood to relocate residents.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Betty Ferguson, who sits on the transportation planning board, said she is skeptical that affordable housing could be built for people who would be displaced by the new route.
"I am tired of voting for stuff that we all know is not going to happen the way you say it will. Let’s get real," Commissioner Ferguson said. "I’m just tired of supporting plans that are not realistic."
Commissioner Ferguson said she was among the thousands of residents forced out of their homes when I-395 was built and doesn’t expect many people to be left in the neighborhood if it is rerouted to the north.
"I don’t believe the people living there will still be there – maybe two or three of them," Commissioner Ferguson said. "They won’t be able to afford what you are going to build there."
Mayor Diaz said he supports the plan and is committed to making sure the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
"We seldom in government have a chance to correct the mistakes of the past," he said. "This is something very important to us as a community."