For the 600,000 people of West Dade and West Kendall, last month’s historic approval of the Miami-Dade County Comprehensive Plan Amendment to incorporate the Kendall Parkway as a new, multimodal transportation corridor was a big win – on many levels.
The Sept. 27 hearing at County Hall was the culmination of a well-planned and balanced effort that stood on commitments to the protection of the environment and the ability to assist the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan – all while providing a much-needed traffic solution for residents of West Dade and West Kendall.
It was also a big day for public engagement. Because it is often not the case that everyday citizens actually mobilize to be heard by their government leaders on an issue of such importance. But in this case, the democratic process prevailed.
Upon a backdrop of residents going about their lives – getting up and commuting to work, providing for their families, and then coming back to them every night – it was crucial that people who live in this highly congested area be provided with a balanced view of the overall project plan and key steps along the way.
But more than awareness, it was imperative that these primary stakeholders were able to participate in the process – to have a say in decisions that will so significantly impact their lives – and to be able to step up to say “I am here, I support this.”
And step up they did. The Kendall Parkway project served to open the eyes of virtually thousands of residents, regular folks who realized that their presence was needed for it to proceed. Many of them attended the public hearing, while others reached out to their elected officials with messages and emails – to ensure their voice would make a difference.
This type of grassroots activism is rare, particularly here in Miami-Dade County where, for so many, the government center is located far from the very people it serves. That’s why, in this case, extraordinary measures were needed. But ultimately, what was evident is that the residents showed up and their voices were heard. Perhaps due to the much talked about information campaign conducted by MDX, which created vital awareness and beckoned for direct public input.
Those who opposed the project did their part too, as volunteer professionals and other interested citizens spoke out at the Sept. 27 hearing. It seems their concerns also were heard – as evidenced by the multiple assurances that were put in place. During the hearing, County Director of the Department of Environmental Resources Lee Hefty very deftly explained the requirements that were included in amendments to the Kendall Parkway, which serve to protect the environment.
Voices Were Heard
Hefty outlined on-site mitigation steps that include the purchase of at least 1,000 acres for conservation, preservation, and implementation of safeguards for the nearby West Wellfield. He also spelled out details of a new law that inhibits development inside or outside the Urban Boundary that could be otherwise be justified by any additional capacity caused by the Kendall Parkway – rules that thwart sprawl and offer protections to agricultural lands.
These items were not only requirements to the amendment but they were made part of an Interlocal Agreement between MDX and Miami-Dade County that, based on letters between U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, were approved concurrently.
Hefty explained that approval of these measures occurred at a planning level and that together with the Corps of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District, the Department of Interior, and his own department, specific reviews and evaluations will be conducted once the project goes into a permitting phase.
Also worth noting is the fact that MDX initiated a Project Development and Environment Study in December of 2013. Every transportation project in Florida, and for that matter in the U.S., must perform such a study to evaluate environmental impacts and provide an opportunity for public input.
These studies are coordinated with federal, state, and local agencies. A public hearing on the study will take place this fall. As the study and all the reports included are completed in advance of this next public hearing, they will be available for public review. For information on what has been done to date, visit https://www.mdxway.com/projects/future/mdx-sr-836-southwest-extension.
Until then, citizens should remain wary of any misinformation, or even rumors regarding the project and/or the various stages of the process.
One supporter that has been carefully watching the process of the Kendall Parkway is U.S. Congressman Carlos Curbelo. He expressed the community’s sentiment in a Tweet sent immediately following the Sept. 27 vote, which reads: “So many in the #Kendall community where I’ve lived for almost 25 years are celebrating this new transportation option which will bring much-needed relief to our area while being sensitive to environmental concerns. #KendallParkway.”
Everyone watching this project unfold should only hope that as a community we can work together in the spirit of trust, as the Kendall Parkway becomes a reality. The 600,000 residents owe this to the County Commissioners and to the County Mayor who heard their voices and acted in a responsible manner by approving this major step for the Kendall Parkway.