A deal has been reached between Miami-Dade County, Hialeah and Miami Lakes about two closed and long-disputed bridges that cross Interstate 75 between the two municipalities.
Hialeah residents in new developments on the west side of I-75 wanted the spans open to be able to access schools in town and the Palmetto Expressway.
Miami Lakers wanted both bridges to remain closed, fearing traffic that would add to current gridlock during morning and afternoon rush hours. For the past two years, several Miami-Dade Police officers have been stationed each weekday morning along Miami Lakes Drive/Northwest 154th Street to keep drivers from blocking intersections.
The bridge at Northwest 154th Street will remain closed to traffic except for emergency vehicles in an agreement to be revisited after a decade, Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid said Friday morning.
The Northwest 170th Street bridge will be opened to traffic, perhaps within two months, Cid said.
The plan is likely to go for a vote by the Hialeah and Miami Lakes councils during their meetings on March 8 and before the Board of County Commissioners on March 15.
Miami Lakes Councilman Luis Collazo said opening the NW 170th Street bridge is premature.
“I’m completely opposed to these bridges opening without us having a plan to mitigate the traffic that will be coming,” Collazo said Friday.
During the council's March 2 Special Call meeting, Collazo presented reopening a 2018 traffic study and for the town to join a traffic study of the bridges currently being conducted by Miami-Dade County. That night, the council voted unanimously for Collazo's proposals so they could see the impact open bridges would have in Miami Lakes.
“At this point, I haven’t seen any mitigation or any plans to mitigate the traffic and that’s been my concern all along,” Collazo said after officials announced the deal.
He said his biggest concern is the impact new traffic will have on residents and the area around the northern bridge, and he wants to see what the draft plan will look like when it is presented during Tuesday’s council meeting.
Cid said earlier on Friday that the ongoing litigation over the Northwest 170th Street bridge between the county, Hialeah, Lennar Corp. and its contractor Downright Engineering was a threat to keeping the southern span closed.
“What I couldn’t do was put at risk both bridges opening,” Cid said. “Now we’ll keep 154 closed for future generations.”
Cid said the town council “gave me marching orders” during an executive session a few weeks ago to get the deal done.
The tentative plan is for the Jakey Duque pocket park on the Miami Lakes side of Northwest 154th Street to be expanded and for Hialeah to develop a park on its side of the bridge, a combined 30 acres, Cid said.
The bridge would be open to the town’s Freebee, a free app-driven shuttle service as well as Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, pedestrians, scooter riders and bicyclists. Motorcycles would not be allowed, officials said.
When the northern span is opened, pedestrians will be able to walk across along with vehicular traffic.
Hialeah Mayor Esteban Bovo said on Twitter Friday, “Today is a historic day for the residents of Hialeah. The developments on the west side of I-75 are now going to be able soon to be using this bridge to give them traffic relief.
“And soon we’ll be working on global issues for this area that will connect all these communities so that it will be seamless,” Bovo said. “Our goal here is to improve the quality of life for all residents in this area.”
Bovo thanked Cid, with whom he has been recently negotiating, as well as County Commission Chair Jose “Pepe” Diaz and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava for their help in making an agreement happen.
Miami Lakes Town Manager Edward Pidermann said partnerships with other government entities will be needed to provide routes for the extra traffic that will be coming to town.
“We’ll have to see what happens,” Pidermann said. “We can’t close streets, Northwest 82nd or Northwest 87th Avenue, to keep all those cars from going into Miami Lakes.
“That’s in the purview of the county,” he said.
The county would manage the influx of vehicles along the avenues.
“As far as the flow of traffic, or rerouting it, the county claims that’s their domain,” Pidermann said. “We can’t close 170th or other streets. Even the placement of four- way stops or a traffic light at 89th Ave. and 170th, that’s also in the purview of the county.
“Our options are limited in that immediate area as far as how the town can manage incoming traffic,” Pidermann said.
There are solutions long sought by the town that require state and federal approvals and funding.
“We can continue to work with the state or other partners to pursue proposed on-ramps to I-75, or underpasses beneath the Palmetto at NW 146th Street and NW 159th to mitigate traffic,” Pidermann said. “They weren’t the cure-all but would help get some cars off 154.”
But the town won’t be able to resolve on its own what’s coming down the road.
“Even some of the proposals such as the on-ramp to I-75 to 87th Ave. near [Barbara] Goleman [Senior] High and on-ramps to the Gratigny [Parkway] at 67th Avenue all require someone else, the state, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority or the federal government to do,” Pidermann said. “It’s not anything the town can do alone.”
Many of the residents of Hialeah and Miami Lakes have very close ties, whether by blood or through the schools they attended or where they shop and the restaurants they visit.
John Rogger lives in town south of Northwest 154th Street and takes his sons to the South Florida Autism Charter School on W. 108th St. in Hialeah, which is west of the bridges.
“This is exciting,” Rogger said about the northern span opening, which he hoped would cut their up to 60 minute drive to school each morning where he also works.
Christy Cabrera Chirinos lives in Hialeah with her husband David on the west side of I-75.
The family eats at Miami Lakes restaurants and each weekday morning, she drives their son Alexander to Bob Graham Elementary School at 15901 NW 79th Ave.
The 4.6 mile trip from their home in the Aragon community to Miami Lakes can take up to 40 minutes, she said.
“It’s horrible,” Cabrera Chirinos said. “The biggest concern for me every morning is getting him there in time for when the bell rings.”
In addition to perhaps shortening their commute to school, a benefit of an open bridge will be that her mother Cary Alvarez lives in Palm Springs North near NW 170th Street.
“It will mean just coming out of my development, driving over the bridge and I’ll almost be in her driveway,” she said.
Cabrera Chirinos recalled the crash of a fuel truck several years ago that blocked Northwest 97th Avenue. She couldn’t get home for three hours.
“I’m excited, I’m positive and I hope it eases traffic in my community,” Cabrera Chirinos said. “I think it will make things better. But this is Miami. Traffic is a nightmare everywhere.”