More than 100 angry Kendall residents turned an Oct. 3 “outreach” meeting about Florida’s Turnpike into a barrage of criticisms of a proposed $26 million project to connect express lanes at SW 104th Street by rebuilding the existing overpass between SW 117th and 122nd avenues.
Seeking public comment on the controversial connections solely to accommodate “Lexus Lane” motorists, turnpike officials initially heard State Rep. Frank Artiles declare he would move to “kill the project.”
“I see no local support for this,” declared District 119’s Artiles, an area resident who led a parade of 25 others to a microphone after a half-hour presentation by turnpike representatives detailing the proposal.
Near unanimous objections were voiced by Devon Aire PTSA and homeowner association officers whose K-8 school and county park adjoin the overpass, plus homeowner association representatives and homeowners from The Hammocks, Sable Chase, Kendale, Charlestown and Amaretto, as well as RollBackTolls members.
A Powerpoint presentation designed to answer criticisms and questions from a website survey and explain project benefits only served to further incense objectors, including several who said an Aug. 6 public hearing scheduled at a Bird Road banquet hall was poorly advertised to keep public knowledge minimized.
Declaring any attempt to circumvent public participation untrue, Turnpike Enterprise spokesman Thomas C. Percival, environmental office manager, along with senior project manager Craig Bostic nevertheless heard nothing but objections to the project, based largely on safety, security and wasteful spending, as well as questioning traffic counts and design details.
Many of those objections already had been listed in a letter Rep. Artiles had sent to Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, FTE executive director, on Sept. 19
As a member of two House Transportation committees, Artiles said, “We are continuing to work together with the Turnpike Authority to find ways to improve congestion in this area but this project will only serve to increase the problem. I will tell you now that I will vigorously work to kill it.”
Carlos Amezaga, vice president of Devon Aire PTSA, said, “In speaking for more than 1,400 area homeowners, I can tell you we are completely opposed.”
“Even before our board officially takes this matter up, I can assure you there will be strong objections,” said Donald Kearns of The Hammocks HOA board.
A formal letter listing 12 specific areas for the “lack of communication and misleading information” plus 18 items questioning the project viability has been sent to Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad by West Kendall activist Jane Walker who said her questions were inadequately answered or ignored by officials during the session.
Mayor Edward MacDougall of Cutler Bay, who also appeared to oppose the project, gave his two minutes’ time to Walker to continue a detailed interrogation of turnpike officials when her two-minute time limit was cut short.
Among other several areas, Walker questioned why Miami-Dade Public Schools had no representation or comment about a project that “so obviously will pose both safety and security concerns for schoolchildren and parents at Devon Aire.”
She also charged that both Miami-Dade’s Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC) as well as the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) had insufficient time to learn about the project and hear from community residents before taking approval actions.
Jose D. Mitrani, associate professor of FIU School of Construction, sharply criticized the “design-and-build contract under which the project is proposed.
“It could extend the contract over a four-year period with substantial changes from what planning now presents,” he declared. “You are proposing a project that could last 1,226 days with serious congestion and safety hazards for schoolchildren and pedestrians alike.”
Calling the turnpike proposal a “waste of money,” Mitrani and others charged that such ramps would more logically be located express lanes at the turnpike’s SW 120th Street interchange, an area turnpike officials said could not be used due to configurations of entry and access ramps to the Snapper Creek Plaza.
“This is not just $26 million but a move to spend $76 million,” concluded Carlos Garcia, co-chair of RollBackTolls, citing a turnpike plan to erect similar speed lane access ramps from the turnpike to SR 836 (Dolphin Expressway) north of SW 104th Street, adding, “Otherwise, why put them only in this Kendall area?”
In a statement released after the meeting, the FTE said it is committed to working together with local communities to improve mobility and safety on the turnpike system, noting “we received comments on the proposed direct access ramps both during and after the Aug. 6 public hearing and again at Thursday night’s community outreach meeting.
“We have listened intently to the concerns of the local citizenry and are currently reviewing the proposed project to see if any modifications or improvements can be made to the proposed plan that would benefit the local community and the customers of Florida’s Turnpike.”