In a rare win for environmentalists, an administrative law judge denied a billion-dollar highway extension pushed by developers, county planners, the mayor of Miami, and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, which is a toll road agency.
Opponents of the extension said that the road would endanger the wetlands, the water supply and would encourage development sprawl.
Development is the greatest threat we have to Florida’s environment. Many in power would not stop until concrete covers the whole state. Administrative law judges often in rule in favor of the defendant, which is usually not the environmentalist, so we commend Judge Van Wyck for her wisdom.
Read the complete article here in the Miami Herald.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
Judge rules against $1 billion 836 extension, cites ‘meager’ traffic improvement
Conflicts of the proposed Dolphin/836 Expressway extension with the Everglades restoration plan
Opponents of a proposed $1 billion highway extension through wetlands in western Miami-Dade won a legal victory Monday when an administrative judge rejected the planned southwest route for State Road 836, citing uncertain impacts on Everglades preservation and “meager” improvements of traffic congestion.
Suzanne Van Wyck, an administrative law judge for Florida, recommended that Gov. Ron DeSantis and other members of the state Cabinet reject Miami-Dade’s application to change development rules allowing for the construction of the 14-mile toll road championed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez. It’s designed to connect western suburbs with the 836, a route best known as the Dolphin Expressway.
Dennis Kerbel, the assistant county attorney who helped represent Miami-Dade in the legal challenge, said Monday “we are reviewing the Recommended Order and exploring our options.”
WILL THE 836 EXTENSION GET APPROVED?
Groups behind the challenge, including the Hold the Line Coalition, Tropical Audubon Society and Friends of the Everglades, will push both state and county leaders to kill the project, a representative said. “We’ll be asking elected officials to end this bad idea,” said Laura Reynolds, an environmental consultant active in the challenge.
She said the groups will push to spend existing tolls on mass transit projects. The bulk of the $1 billion parkway funds were to be generated from tolls that would only be collected if the new expressway was built.
The decision followed weeks of hearings in the summer of 2019, when environmental groups and a developer with property in the area tried to knock down assertions by county planners and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, the embattled toll agency behind the project.
JUDGE SAYS KENDALL PARKWAY MEANS ‘MEAGER’ COMMUTE SAVINGS
Dubbed the Kendall Parkway, the project would extend the 836 past the county’s Urban Development Line, which separates high-density construction from rural areas surrounding the Everglades, and bring a new commuting option to suburban residents not served by the county’s Metrorail line. Supporters called it needed traffic relief, while critics said the project was bound to encourage sprawl.
“Not only does the data reveal that the improvements in West Kendall congestion would be … ’meager,’ but also they provide no support for a finding that the [expressway plan] will accomplish its second objective — improving the commute time to downtown and other employment centers,” Van Wyck wrote.
One of the most contentious elements of last summer’s hearings came from testimony about changes in commute times. For a West Kendall resident with a two-hour commute to downtown Miami, former Miami-Dade planning chief Mark Woerner, who was testifying as an expert witness for the county in a hearing last July, said the reduction in travel time would be just 5 percent, which would equal about six minutes.
The Gimenez administration later objected to the figure, calling it “hypothetical” and saying other data showed more significant savings.
The administrative challenge that sparked the hearings argued that the massive transportation project would do more harm than good, as it posed a threat to the Everglades and the county’s water supply. And projections for traffic flow improvement showed that drivers would save just a few minutes on their daily commutes from West Kendall to the downtown area.
Since the suit was filed in October, the parkway plan was caught up in the legal fight to abolish the MDX. In July, DeSantis signed a bill to abolish the MDX and ordered the creation of a new board with a mission of freezing toll prices. Under the new law, Gimenez, MDX’s appointed chairman and the parkway’s most influential supporter, wouldn’t be allowed to serve on the board of the new entity, called the Greater Miami Expressway Agency.
Miami-Dade commissioners in 2018 approved changes to the county’s comprehensive development master plan allowing the 836 extension past the Urban Development Boundary, and the plan’s change was the subject of the legal challenge that resulted in Van Wyck’s ruling….