doubleheader session on recycling and expressway projects largely turned into a gripe session about MDX expenses and tolls during a Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations (KFHA) public meeting on May 29.
“We understand people have issues with us and they have a right to express their views,” Mario A. Diaz, PIO for the Miami- Dade Expressway Authority (MDX), said after the sometimes stormy session. “All we can do is try to explain how we operate and answer their questions.”
Diaz was one of four MDX representatives appearing by invitation of the KFHA to comment on current MDX and FDOT-related projects. Others included Cindy Polo-Serantes, communications manager; Juan Toledo, assistant engineering director, and Stephan P.Andriuk, deputy executive director of toll operations.
Leading the criticisms were Roll Back Tolls co-chairs Carlos Garcia and Miller Myers, along with former KFHA president Lee Zimmerman, each turning questions into short speeches that primarily criticized project operations.
Garcia charged MDX had “rubber- stamped” a landscaping project on SR 874 (Shula Expressway) reconstruction by spending $3 million or “$8,000 per tree” on a $71 million contracted project.
“While one can’t argue the work doesn’t look very nice, there are South Florida toll payers who believe that’s excessive, especially in an economy with so many out of work, with high gas prices plus the cost of tolls,” he said.
“Florida statutes require 1.5 percent of any project go for landscaping,” Diaz explained. “MDX spreads that figure over all ongoing projects since bridgework and other factors simply don’t allow even minimum landscaping in each case.
“The result is that SR 874 got a higher commitment of what is required to be spent in all projects,” he said, noting MDX also could justify higher landscaping expense since costs for SR 874 improvements “well-exceeded the $71 million contract.”
To Garcia’s questioning about not replanting trees, Diaz said that during MDX-homeowner meetings residents primarily sought noise walls to reduce sound and well as visual pollution.
“Investigating costs to replant existing trees, we found it not only cost-prohibitive but there was no guarantee the trees would survive replanting,” he added.
Myers, along with KFHA’s Marvin Stein, expressed concern that a new MDX connector on SW 128th Street to Florida’s Turnpike/Shula Expressway would necessarily increase already congested traffic on SW 137th Avenue.
“No one has yet been able to provide an answer to that question,” Myers declared.
MDX engineers have begun studying areas where the traffic problems may arise due to the connector, Toledo said.
“The project is still in its predesign phase and “part of the engineering phase in any ongoing MDX project is to study and make recommendations to alleviate traffic issues,” he stated. “We design and develop a physical plan based on projected traffic as it effects all roads involved.”
Zimmerman said he opposed tolls on all MDX expressways “because that wasn’t the way our country developed (no one asked for tolls when pioneers went west),” adding that an appointed MDX Board of Directors “wasn’t answerable to the people.”
“Let’s not be abrasive in discussing how to solve our traffic problems,” Andriuk advised after explaining open road tolling, noting the average traffic speed of 15 miles per hour will increase to 25- 30 miles per hour, once the SR 826/SR874 redevelopment is completed.
A progress report by Oscar Gonzalez, FDOT public information specialist, on the $568 million SR 836/SR 826 interchange redevelopment said it is due for completion in 2015, replacing 42 with 95 new traffic lanes, ramps and connector roads to improve traffic congestion.
The project is the final and largest section of the 12-part Palmetto Expressway (SR 826) Improvement Program, which consists of major construction along a 16-mile corridor. The SR826/SR 836 Interchange, used by more than 430,000 motorists daily, will carry a predicted flow of 535,000 daily vehicle trips by 2035, he said.
Earlier, a lively recycling talk by Jeanmarie M. Massa, Solid Waste Department recycling manager, preceded the discussion of traffic issues.
Massa urged “emptying all liquids from bottles” and not placing plastic shopping bags in recycling bins.
“You have no idea how the puddles accumulate and plastic bags ‘gum up’ the automated recycling equipment,” she said. MDX projects criticized during KFHA meeting Oscar Gonzalez explains SR 836/SR 826 Interchange details during KFHA meeting on May 29.
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