A plan between the county and Key Biscayne to prioritize residents during last weekend’s country music festival fell apart on Saturday, causing backups that looped around neighborhood streets as residents were trapped on the island.
Police Chief Frank Sousa told the Village Council on Tuesday that prior to the two-day concert he had been in contact with the promoter for the Country Bay Musical Festival, Miami-Dade Police Department and the city of Miami. The Causeway is under the sole control of Miami-Dade County, while Virginia Key is controlled by the City of Miami.
The Village had sent out multiple alerts warning of possible traffic jams long beforehand – and the fears came true.
Adding to the traffic was another 2,000 people who came to Virginia Key for a wedding – where Jennifer Lopez sang.
Council Member Brett Moss said traffic on Saturday stretched down Fernwood Road. “People just abandoned their cars and walked home,” he said.
“We understand there are events,” Sousa said. “They need to understand that it shouldn’t take our residents over an hour to leave. It’s just unacceptable. “
Sousa said early Sunday morning he spoke to the promoter, Miami Police Chief Manual Morales and “the No. 2” at Miami-Dade Police.
A lane set aside for busses was reopened for traffic, going a long way to alleviate the backups from the night before.
“There was a different command staff there on Sunday afternoon,” Sousa said of Miami-Dade Police. “The plan went the way it should have gone on Sunday – and that’s the way it should have gone on Saturday.”
Sousa said the island has forged good relationships with Miami-Dade police captains who oversee the Rickenbacker Causeway but worried that may change. The County Police department recently went through a leadership shuffle after the attempted suicide of its director and Sousa said that usually leads to changes among captains.
Council Member Brett Moss said he had a friend who went to fetch his daughter from Pinecrest at 10 p.m. and didn’t get back until 1 a.m. “He was just sitting at Bear Cut Bridge, watching them emptying out the parking lot as a priority and it was just standstill for everybody,” Moss said. “We got to get this under control.”
Council Member Frank Caplan said, “That’s not supposed to happen. It’s supposed to be sequenced.”
“What’s really dismaying about this is that this happens so often, and every time it happens, we will say it’ll never happen again because we’ve learned the lesson,” Caplain said.
Council Member Allison McCormick said there has been improvement due to better communications with the county. “I don’t think every single event is always a failure now,” she said.
It’s hard to say if the music festival will be back next year. Sousa said it was a disappointment to the promoter with about 8,000 people attending each day.
Mayor Joe Rasco, who said it took him more than an hour to leave the island Saturday, said he plans to reach out to the county himself. “An hour and a half, two hours is not acceptable,” he said. “Even though we planned, it’s not enough good planning.”