A Nov. 21 public hearing on plans that include express lanes on a 20-mile expansion of Florida’s Turnpike’s southernmost section apparently caught Cutler Bay town officials by surprise and they have asked for a postponement.
Publication of a legal advertisement on Oct. 27 regarding a public hearing scheduled Nov. 21 describing turnpike expansion in the Cutler Bay area led to an objection from town Mayor Edward MacDougall upon learning it would include express lanes.
Addition of the so-called “Lexus Lanes” does not involve new entry or access ramps, according to a turnpike spokesperson, but their development on the turnpike has become a hot topic in Kendall ever since a heated Oct. 3 meeting when officials heard strong objections from more than 100 residents.
Rebuilding the SW 104th Street bridge over the turnpike with a new stoplight and construction of an express lane ramp exit opposite the Devon Aire Park and K-8 Center largely caused the Kendall protest. The project now is “officially on hold” according to an Oct. 11 statement by Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell who, with State Rep. Frank Artiles, wants more details before it proceeds.
“Due to the seriousness of the matter concerning the proposed turnpike ‘express lanes issue’ and the insufficient amount of time given to conduct proper outreach, it is in the best interest and welfare of our town to postpone this meeting,” wrote MacDougall in an Oct. 30 letter to turnpike CEO Diana Gutierrez-Scaccetti.
“We had a preliminary meeting about erection of sound barriers, but this hearing involves much more than that,” declared MacDougall who said both he and town manager Rafael Casale were under the impression barriers were the sole extent of the turnpike hearing on Nov. 21.
While not directly referring in his letter to a recent Kendall protest proposing exit and entry ramps at SW 104th Street, MacDougall said that inclusion of express lanes “was not something both I and the town manager expected as part of the Nov. 21 hearing which we thought would be confined to sound barriers.”
Confirming the inclusion of express lanes, Sonyha Rodriguez-Miller, turnpike spokesperson, said lanes planned do not include the need for any access ramps.
“While there are sound walls in this project, this meeting was never intended as a sound wall specific meeting for town officials,” she stated. “This is a public hearing open to the public, specifically for the PD&E study on the turnpike widening project from Campbell Drive to US1,” she said, adding information had been posted on the turnpike’s website since a May informational meeting.
MacDougall said his first knowledge of the extent of the Nov. 21 hearing was called to his attention on Oct. 27 when notice of the meeting appeared.
The advertisement provided notice for the meeting to start at 5:30 p.m. in the Cutler Bay Town Hall, 10720 Caribbean Blvd., followed at 6:30 p.m. by a presentation of plans to review turnpike widening from SW 216th Street to Caribbean Boulevard (four to six lanes); from Caribbean Boulevard to US1 (six to eight lanes), and US 1 to Eureka Drive (SW 184th Street) (six to 10 lanes).
A summary statement provided by Florida’s Turnpike said sound walls are to be built along residential areas on the east side of the turnpike between the C-1 Canal, south of SW 216th Street, and US1.
The project also will include asphalt milling and resurfacing, bridge improvements, landscaping, lighting and major drainage improvements, new traffic signals on local roads and improved signage.
Project cost is listed at $40.9 million derived from toll and concession revenue with work on the initial section expected to be completed by 2016. Project need is based upon the turnpike’s use as a major evacuation route for southern Miami-Dade County and the Keys, and to help prevent “severe” area traffic congestion.
The summary concludes: “FTE will add express lanes as a tool to manage future congestion. Variable-priced tolls on the express lanes are anticipated to manage congestion, similar to I-95 Express Lanes.”