Town turns five-lane ‘runway’ into safer residential street

By Gary Alan Ruse

Pictured (l-r) at the groundbreaking ceremony are Councilmember Tim Meerbott, Mayor Paul Vrooman, Vice Mayor Ed MacDougall, Councilmember Ernie Sochin, and residents Tatiana Walton and James Popadak.

After residents from the Cantamar neighborhood contacted Cutler Bay Mayor Paul Vrooman about vehicles speeding along SW 208th Street between 87th Avenue and Old Cutler Road, Vrooman investigated and found that the county had allowed development on both sides of the road to be configured so that what residents called a five-lane “runway” had been built.

The wide-open stretch of roadway had no landscaping, median or bike lanes, and effectively invited speeding and racing down the street in front of homes. Now, after almost two years of work by town council members, Public Works Department, town manager and county officials, the street is being transformed into a two-lane road that is better suited for neighborhood traffic, according to Mayor Vrooman.

“It was overbuilt, and had no consideration for the residents here,” Vrooman said. “It was laid out for people to fly through here, literally, and it was no place to buy a home and raise a family, for safety.

“The people had been complaining of the traffic and speeding and got together and contacted me, so I brought some of the town staff here and met with the people of Cantamar and Pelican Bay Estates,” the mayor said.

“Our staff brought in some really good designers and the citizens came out and attended several public hearings and workshops on it, and gave us their input, and now we have a beautiful plan. It really represents a big breakthrough moment for this neighborhood. It’s pretty exciting and I’m really proud.”

A special “groundbreaking” ceremony took place at the site on Friday, Aug. 13, although much of the work already has been done. Once completed, there will be a median with xeriscape landscaping using native vegetation, a bike lane and a pedestrian-friendly environment.

Public Works director Rafael Casals couldn’t be happier with how it has turned out.

“This project is ahead of schedule,” Casals said. “We said it was going to be done by the end of October but it will be completed before then. It’s also under budget and we had a dedicated funding source for it, which is the gas tax money we received, so it’s a winwin for everybody.”

James Popadak, the property manager for Cantamar and Pelican Bay, attended the ceremony and also is happy.

“The community, especially Cantamar, has been very active in seeking to change the roadway so that it’s no longer a ‘landing strip’ or ‘drag strip’ as some called it,” Popadak said. “I’m really pleased with the results.”

Tatiana Walton is a long time resident on SW 208th Street who has seen the changes there. She also attended the groundbreaking.

“We were an original buyer from before the development was built,” Walton said. “When we bought the property this was a one lane dirt road, and as the house was being built we were shocked to see it come in as a five-lane ‘runway.’ We were among the first homeowners to talk to the association as well as to the town council to see what we could do to get this changed.

“We are thrilled,” she added. “We’re going to have parking now, so we can have parties and we won’t have near the speeding problem. And with the trees planted along the median it will give us a nicer view.”

Town manager Steve Alexander described what was involved and why he thought it worked.

“We had to coordinate with the county,” Alexander said. “This was one of those projects that came from the residents in the area. They said, ‘look, we have problems out here.’ Because there was a municipality here we were able to focus on it and address it, find the money for it and make it happen. We’re very happy to be able to be this responsive to a neighborhood that really had a clear need and a safety issue.”

Vice Mayor Ed MacDougall agreed with that view.

“I think what this proves is the difference between the county, which I’m not disparaging, and our own government running a project,” MacDougall said. “The efficiencies involve time and money, which is everything. This has come in a timely way and under budget because of the way management has undertaken it, and it’s a homerun for the people of Cutler Bay.”

Councilman Tim Meerbott was glad they were able to help the area’s residents. “There were no trees, no character, nothing,” Meerbott said. “This design is much nicer. It’s exactly what the citizens wanted. I’m glad we were able to work with them and give them what they need and deserve. It’s a great improvement over what they had before, so I’m looking forward to that beautiful street.”

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