Friday, April 16, 2004

George Mindling Column 4-16-2004


Time to Build New Highways is Right Now


We loved it when the whole building would shake. Everybody would look around to see if any damage was done to the classroom. West Miami Junior High School was directly adjacent to the new Palmetto Expressway being built just a few hundred yards west of the band building. A canal, which ran from the Coral Gables Waterway to the Tamiami Canal, was between the new roadwork and the school, but that was it. Dynamiting went on during regular school hours, and we seventh-graders just loved it. The teachers tried to maintain their composure, but every once in a while, their eyes would dance around the room with the look of "Why now?"

Back then, the Palmetto was so far away from Miami, they didn't even build overpasses north of Okeechobee Road, still relying on stop signs on streets like 103rd Street, where cows still watched the sparse traffic whiz by. Today, the Palmetto is part of the main thoroughfare system in Miami-Dade County.  Huge shopping centers have stood for more than 30 years where pastures once dominated the countryside. Greater Miami has long since expanded past the now venerable expressway, being supplanted by the Florida Turnpike Extension, which parallels the old Palmetto several miles to the west.  It too is no longer outside the greater Miami area, being a regular traffic bearer for most people who work in downtown Miami but live in the communities such as Kendale Lakes and the Hammocks.

The growth and expansion of Florida's east coast is now catching up with Southwest Florida.  Recent Sun editorials have highlighted the inadequacy of our current network of highways. The seemingly daily closure of I-75 due to traffic accidents proves constantly that alternatives are needed now, not just in 20 or 30 years.  When a single truck accident can close our one main evacuation route for days, warning flags should go up with every planner in the area.

I have always supported a new link to the Florida Turnpike system, a toll road that runs from Wildwood, south of Ocala, to just south of Homestead. I would like to see a new turnpike link leave the current turnpike at Orlando and head southwest to Naples.

Access to the Southwest Florida Turnpike extension could be easily made from Charlotte County via State Road 31, or perhaps even U.S. 17. There are other alternatives to the heavily traveled 1-75, but so far there has been no planning other than multilaning the already busy highway.

One thing is certain: U.S. 41 does not adequately provide an alternative to traffic rerouted off me interstate, other than as an emergency bypass. Your kids will always remember if the opportunity to build new highways was ignored by their parents. They will live here 40 years from now-and so will their kids. The days of blasting next to a school are gone, and if we aren't smart, so will the opportunity to build needed highways while the property is still affordable.

George Mindling © 2004

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