Brian Conesa, Director of the Tropical Everglades Visitor Association, received a letter on FDOT stationary last week bringing him good news.
“The Department has suspended activity to further develop the Turnpike ramp over Palm Drive and U.S. 1 intersection,” it read.
FDOT termed the proposed tolled Turnpike ramp through the middle of U.S.1 from Exit One to the Keys causeway the “preferred Build Alternative.” The twenty-foot elevated roadway with one lane in each direction was estimated to cost $224 million.
Conesa attended the public hearing July 20 to promote local business and support current traffic patterns. His testimony in opposition to FDOT’s Alternative was sent to Florida’s Governor who forwarded it to the Turnpike Enterprise and its engineers.
Mayor Otis Wallace of Florida City also attended that public hearing.
“Everyone who spoke at that hearing got this letter. I just wrote to the Governor two weeks ago to request an audience and this letter is the first response the City had,” he said.
“It’s always helpful when the community stands tall as it did,” the Mayor said. “I’m gratified with the support we had from all sections of the community.”
“I’m happy to see that grassroots opposition worked,” Conesa added.
“It’s good news to a lot of businesses.”
Several speakers at the July hearing supported a local design alternative that cost less and blended with current traffic patterns.
Termed “The People’s Plan”, this alternative was created by Homestead businessman Leif Gunderson. It advocates widening the existing southbound Turnpike exit ramp to build a ramp over US1 dedicated to eastbound Palm Drive traffic. The plan adds a third lane to southbound US1 from Burger King to Krome Avenue beyond the Racetrac gas station to reduce congestion.
The Mayor said Florida City offered an alternative designed by a retired highway engineer that included a similar flyover ramp for eastbound Palm Drive traffic.
FDOT’s Alternative was derided at the hearing as “the Florida City Bypass”. Florida City’s CRA Director Jon Ward called the plan “an unattractive Great Wall of Misfortune that depreciates land values and murders businesses”.
“The good news is we already had two development projects come back who heard this this,” the Mayor added. “Of course we prefer something more permanent than just suspended. I still intend to take a meeting with the Governor when offered.”
The letter to Conesa cited as reasons to build, the alleviation of congestion, enhanced emergency evacuation, and improved safety and accessibility. Turnpike Enterprise CEO Nicola Liquori who signed the letter concluded by
saying they “look forward to working with the community to consider other alternatives to address safety and operational needs”.
“We are not against the good parts of that proposal, such as widening the
Turnpike further north and adding an exit at Palm Drive (and Tennessee),” Mayor Wallace said. “We’ll have to stay on top of future alternatives,” Conesa added.