The I-395/SR 836/I-95 Project ("Connecting Miami") is a partnership between the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX), with construction limits on State Road (SR) 836 beginning at NW 17 Avenue and continuing through the SR 836/I-395/I-95 (Midtown) Interchange to the MacArthur Causeway Bridge. The limits on I-95 are from NW 8 Street to NW 29 Street.
Enhancements along I-395 are from the SR 836/I-95/I-395 (Midtown) Interchange to the MacArthur Causeway, approximately 1.4 miles long. The project will completely reconstruct the existing facility and create a signature bridge that will span 1,025 feet over NE 2 Avenue and SR5/Biscayne Boulevard, redefining the Miami skyline with its six sweeping arches.
The project will create additional capacity on I-395 with a total of three (3) through lanes in each direction and provide separate connector ramps for traffic to and from I-95. The existing I-395 eastbound off-ramps at NE 2 Avenue will be moved west to North Miami Avenue, and the westbound on-ramps at NE 1 Avenue will be shifted to the west of North Miami Avenue. NW 2 Avenue will also be reconnected under I-395, providing residents greater access. Mobility will be enhanced for residents, commuters and tourists by increasing capacity on SR 836, I-95 and I-395. SR 836 will be double-decked to allow for a direct connection between SR 836 and I-395.
The Connecting Miami Project commenced in Summer 2018 and is anticipated to be completed by Fall 2023. Traffic impacts during the multi-year construction project due to multiple and continuous lane/ramp closures and detours along I-95, SR 836, and I-395 are expected to adversely affect mobility for Miami Beach residents, visitors, and workforce employees.
As an example, over the three (3) year period that the FDOT Alton Road Reconstruction Project from 5 Street to Michigan Avenue was under construction (from April 2013 to March 2016), average daily traffic volumes on the MacArthur Causeway decreased by approximately 9% as compared to pre-construction volumes. In contrast, average daily traffic volumes on the Julia Tuttle Causeway increased by approximately 7% (essentially, over 10,000 additional vehicles per day on the already congested Julia Tuttle Causeway.
This magnitude of traffic diversion from one major arterial to another as a result of a major roadway reconstruction project is not uncommon as these types of projects are known to effectuate changes in traffic patterns not only temporarily during construction, but sometimes permanently even after construction is over.
The City of Miami Beach is concerned with the potential effects that the multi-year construction of the Connecting Miami Project and other ongoing and planned FDOT projects on the City's causeways and major arterials will have on mobility.
At the March 13, 2019 City Commission meeting, the Administration presented various traffic mitigation strategies that could be explored in collaboration with FDOT and Miami-Dade County to help mitigate traffic impacts and ensure mobility for residents, visitors, and workforce employees during the construction of the Connecting Miami and other major FDOT projects in and around the City. At the meeting, the City Commission adopted Resolution No. 2019-30757 recommending that the Administration pursue traffic mitigation strategies, including an operating level of agreement specific to communication protocols with respect to the Connecting Miami Signature Bridge Project.. One of the potential traffic mitigation strategies recommended by the Administration (water taxi service) was removed by the City Commission from the list of recommended strategies for the City to pursue. In addition, the item was referred to the Finance and Citywide Projects Committee (FCWPC) for an update. The traffic mitigation strategies approved by the City Commission, and a brief description of each, are listed below.
1. Accelerate the implementation of the Beach Express North Bus Express Rapid Transit (BERT) Demonstration Service or Route 150 (Airport Express) Modifications.
The Miami-Dade County Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit (SMART) Plan contains six (6) Rapid Transit Corridors and nine (9) Bus Express Rapid Transit (BERT) routes for Miami-Dade County. BERT service consists of enhanced branded buses operating limited stop service on shoulders or dedicated transit lanes, where feasible, to reduce travel time and help ensure service schedule reliability. Advancing the BERT routes to Miami Beach could help mitigate the impacts of the Connecting Miami projects.
There are three (3) BERT routes that are proposed to connect the mainland to Miami Beach. The Beach Express North BERT route will run from Golden Glades Multimodal Center to the Miami Beach City Center area via the Julia Tuttle Causeway. The Beach Express Central BERT route will run from the Miami Civic Center/Health District complex to the Miami Beach City Center area via the Julia Tittle Causeway. The Beach Express South BERT route will run from Downtown Miami to the Miami Beach City Center area via the MacArthur Causeway. Via a Resolution of the City Commission, the City of Miami Beach allocated funding in the amount of $5.1 million for a 3-year Beach Express North BERT demonstration service using the shoulders of the Julia Tuttle Causeway. The City's contribution is equally matched by FDOT funds for the demonstration service.
As of December 5, 2018, FDOT has programmed funds for the design and construction of the inside shoulders modifications needed to operate the BERT service on the Julia Tuttle Causeway by 2022. A goal of all parties is to work toward implementation prior to the estimated 2022 completion date.
Additionally, the Administration is working with the County to potentially modify existing bus routes (such as the Airport Express (Route 150)) to provide a connection to the Earlington Heights Metrorail station (providing access to commuters from northwest Miami-Dade and west Broward) and stop at Mt. Sinai and Fontainebleau, as an interim service enhancement. The goal is to implement the interim service as part of the County's new service line-up in November 2019. Advancing a modified Route 150 could also help mitigate the traffic impacts of the Connecting Miami Project.
2. Enhance service of the County Route "A"
The original Route A operated along the Venetian Causeway connecting Omni Station in Miami and Washington Avenue/Lincoln Road area in Miami Beach. As a result of weight restrictions imposed by the County on the Venetian Causeway bridges in 2014, the route and service plan was modified and currently consists of limited service between Omni Station and Sunset Harbour using smaller vehicles (cutaways), operating on a limited schedule of 7.5 hours per day (7:00AM to 9:32AM and 2:00PM to 6:52PM). On a long term basis, the County’s plan is to reestablish the original Route A service plan when all the Venetian Causeway bridges are reconstructed and allow for operation of regular bus service. In the meanwhile, the County does not have any plans for enhancing the current service. Route A service enhancement was most recently discussed by the City Commission in February 2018 and a Resolution was adopted by the City Commission urging Miami-Dade County to reinstate, at no cost to the City of Miami Beach, the original Route A service plan; however, no service improvements have been made by the County. Enhancing the Route A service could be a potential traffic mitigation strategy. Based on an previous analysis conducted by staff in coordination with the County, the incremental cost of restoring the original Route A service plan would be approximately $230,000/year for approximately 11 hours of service per day from Monday to Sunday.
3. Explore waiving tolls on the Venetian Causeway
During previous construction projects on the City's causeways, at the request of the City, Miami-Dade County has waived toll collection along the Venetian Causeway. This initiative has been put into effect to improve capacity and mobility between Miami Beach and the mainland. Waiving tolls on the Venetian Causeway can assist in reducing traffic demand on the MacArthur Causeway which will be affected by the Connecting Miami Project. Further, this initiative could help balance traffic volumes along the other causeways into the City and reduce the overall impact of the project. This measure would require prior approval by the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, thus, coordination with Miami-Dade County would be required if this option is explored.
Active Work Zone Traffic Monitoring and Management
As part of the Connecting Miami Project, FDOT will deploy Active Work Zone Traffic Monitoring and Management services along the affected project corridors. This initiative consists of deploying cameras to monitor traffic conditions, wi-fi/Bluetooth devices to gauge travel time, Variable Message Signs to disseminate real-time information on closures and incidents to the motoring public, and Road Rangers to help clear incidents blocking travel lanes. This effort will be managed by FDOT SunGuide Traffic Management Center and the same contractor that has been providing Traffic Monitoring and Management Services for the City of Miami Beach for over 4 years.
This initiative was utilized during the Alton Road Reconstruction Project between 5 Street and N. Michigan Avenue and proved to be successful in reducing some of the congestion created by the lane closures and detours. The implementation of Active Work Zone Traffic Monitoring and Management for the FDOT Connecting Miami Project would extend the capabilities of the City’s current Traffic Monitoring and Management effort and planned Intelligent Transportation System and Smart Parking System Project by enhancing the sharing of real-time traffic information, traffic data, incident information, and other relevant items to assist in managing congestion and help reduce spill-back onto City roads.