Local road use increased since xway tolls started

By Richard Yager….
Are you among many Kendall motorists avoiding SunPass and wondering why traffic is heavier on local roadways?

Three major East Kendall roadways showed increases in 2011 ranging from 2 percent to 12 percent in segments between S. Dixie Highway (US 1) and SW 110th Avenue, compared to 2010 counts when the Snapper Creek Expressway (SR 878) and a busy section of the Don Shula Expressway (SR 874) were toll-free.

Vehicle counts by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) showed corresponding increases in 2011 traffic on Sunset Drive (SW 72nd Street), Kendall Drive (SW 88th Street) and Killian Drive (SW 112th Street) since the establishment of Open Road Tolling (ORT) on SR 878 and SR 874.

Once ORT began in July 2010, use dropped by up to 21 percent on five of those former toll-free segments monitored through July 2011 in the same area frequently used by eastbound and westbound motorists. Brian Rick, public information officer for FDOT, said reduced expressway use may or may be attributed to the result of many factors including the economic conditions of recent years.

“I can also understand people may not want to pay tolls if they’ll be slowed down by new construction,” Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe A. Martinez said, referring to reconstruction on the Shula Expressway in 2011.

Recognizing Kendall traffic remains a major issue, Martinez said “the countywide need to improve transit is the best way to get people moving again.

“We need to take the entire county into consideration by utilizing existing rail lines to establish routes that can accommodate four-car commuter trains that can safely move commuters at speeds of up to 50 miles an hour.”

Tracing FDOT website counts back to 2009, each of the three Kendall roadways “show steadily increasing number of vehicle trips,” said Miles E. Moss, traffic engineer who served as president of Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations for 15 years through 2010.

“But there is obviously a correlation of increased numbers with the falloff of traffic on SR 878 over the same periods,” he added after his study of FDOT and MDX tables, and comparing vehicle counts in July 2010 and July 2011.

The Snapper Creek Expressway showed the largest drop of 10,300 vehicle trips during 2011 as against 2010, Moss pointed out.

“In that same period, directly north of SR 878 on Sunset Drive, there was a gain of 5,000 vehicle trips,” he observed. “On Kendall Drive, the count was up by 4,400 vehicle trips and on Killian Drive, trips increased to 1,900,” he noted.

“By adding the increased vehicle trips on all three roads over the same 2010-11 period, you have a total of 11,300 new vehicle trips over and above the counts in 2010,” he said. “Naturally, Sunset and Killian were the highest, being located directly north and south of SR 878.”

Moss agrees that such findings tend to bear out the often-heard complaints of commuting motorists that paying daily tolls on the Snapper Creek at $1 per roundtrip becomes a significant annual expense.

“What is important is that FDOT may face consequences of heavier east-west use of arterials,” he added. “That compounds the problem that already exists, as well as the potential of higher maintenance, safety and other factors that go along with increased usage of any roadway.”

Martinez’s proposal for an East Kendall commuter line using FEC tracks was defeated by resident opposition two years ago but today, he said he is continuing to explore rail system routes to establish a viable commuter service.

“There has been no vision to improve transit since Metrorail expansion has become just about cost-prohibitive,” he concluded.  “It’s a shame because the FEC is not only willing but eager to reach an agreement to utilize its tracks.”

The still active “Roll Back Tolls” movement in 2010, headed by Kendall residents Carlos Garcia and Miller Myers, was based largely on the MDX decision to convert free roads to a ORT revenue source for the agency’s maintenance and system expansion.

“While that’s true, we’ve concentrated on the new Shula construction during the past year,” Garcia said. “Primarily, we’re still concerned about the SW 104th Street intersection where so many accidents at the rebuilt Killian Drive interchange have occurred since last August.”

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