Early this year, the traffic data firm INRIX named Miami the 10th-most-traffic-clogged city in the world. According to the data, Miamians spend 64 hours a year slogging through peak-hour traffic.
The ever-increasing traffic congestion in South Florida, a region that includes Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, has not gone unnoticed by either local officials or private companies, both of which have been working on solutions to traffic woes for years.
At ULI South Florida/Caribbean’s ULI Miami Investor Symposium in late October, two speakers—one from government and another from the private sector—laid out their plans to alleviate some of the congestion.
James Wolfe, District 6 secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation, described plans for a “signature bridge” to replace the current exchange connecting Interstate 395, State Road 836, and Interstate 95 in downtown Miami. Work on the project, estimated to cost $802 million, will begin shortly and is expected to take four-and-a-half years to complete.
The project includes the double-decking of S.R. 836 to increase capacity, Wolfe said. The signature bridge, which will go over land, not water, will have six decorative arches rising above the highway.
One benefit of the project is that it will improve neighborhood connectivity, said Wolfe. When the existing structure was built in the 1960s, it cut off Overtown, a neighborhood just west and north of downtown, from neighborhoods to the east that border Biscayne Bay, he said.
The signature bridge, over the new highway structure, will span 1,000 feet (305 m) with no columns underneath, creating a large plaza. “The six arches will become an iconic symbol, similar to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, which is 610 feet [186 m] tall,” said Wolfe.
As the St. Louis arch is a symbolic gateway to the West, the Miami bridge is intended to symbolize the city ’s status as the gateway to Latin America, he said. The current I-395 bridge has a clearance of 14 feet (4.3 m) and the space underneath it is “dark and dank,” Wolfe noted. The new design will have a clearance of 60 feet (18 m), making 30 acres (12 ha) of public space available for such outdoor amenities as an amphitheater, farmers market, large flowering trees, and a children’s playground, among other possibilities.
The project will not widen I-95 because there is no room to do so, Wolfe said. “[A]nd if we don’t add lanes to the expressway, we need to increase the percentage of traffic that uses [public] transit,” he said.
One example of South Florida transit is the new Brightline train—running from downtown Miami to West Palm Beach with a stop in Fort Lauderdale and scheduled to go all the way to Orlando by 2021. It is a privately owned and funded intercity railroad, built with the benefit of $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds and offering luxury service.
Although prices vary depending on the level of service and the time and day traveled, a round-trip fare from Miami to Fort Lauderdale during the week is about $30. The travel time is about 30 minutes, and Brightline offers hourly departures.
Patrick Goddard, chief operating officer for Brightline, said at the symposium that he believes large cities such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale offer difficult commutes by car because of the distance involved and traffic problems. This is why he thinks Brightline is serving an unmet need. “We are about 30 years behind Europe and Asia” for this kind of service, he said.
The investment in Brightline has been about $2 billion so far, Goddard said, and when the route to Orlando is complete, the company expects to have spent as much as $4 billion. The company is also in talks to provide service to and build stations in three other Florida locations—Stuart, Fort Pierce, and Brevard County.
“It involved a Herculean effort for Brightline to build the railroad,” Goddard said. With 67 miles (108 km) of track, the operation was more complicated than building a vertical structure, he said. “We have 170 grade crossings,” Goddard noted.
MiamiCentral, the Brightline station in downtown Miami, eventually will provide links to all forms of mass transit in Miami-Dade—Metrorail, Miami-Dade’s elevated rapid transit system; Tri-Rail, the three-county commuter rail; and the Metromover, an elevated rapid transit line running through downtown Miami and surrounding areas. This complex will be the center of mobility for the area, Goddard said.
But MiamiCentral is more than a transit hub, he said. Surrounding the station will be 1.5 million square feet (139,000 sq m) of development, including 816 residences, 300,000 square feet (28,000 sq m) of office space, and 150,000 square feet (13,900 sq m) of retail space.
The first mixed-use tower in the development, the 3 MiamiCentral, opened last winter with Brightline as its first tenant. The 12-story structure was developed by Florida East Coast Industries, Brightline’s parent company. Goddard said he expects development activity to increase around other Brightline’s stations, as well.