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For Key Biscayne’s 15,000 residents the number one item on the first draft of Miami-Dade County’s new plan for the Rickenbacker isn’t exactly the news they want to hear. Out of eight topics, reliable traffic flow on the island’s only roadway was not the top issue.

“They had it at No. 7. I wish they had put it at No. 1,” said Village Manager Steve Williamson. 

The master plan, still in a tentative, early phase, envisions improved bike lanes, additional safe pedestrian crossings, and fortification against climate change. The traffic topic — worded as “Improved trip reliability” — came during a presentation at the March 12 Village Council meeting by Miami-Dade County.

Stewart Robertson with the engineering and design firm Kimley-Horn and Paola Baez, a chief in the County’s Transportation & Public Works Department, briefed the Council on the preliminary steps in developing a master plan. They said some ideas included bicycle lanes protected from vehicular traffic, eliminating “free flow” right turns at major intersections and proper trail connections to the mainland.

“Safety is going to be the first word in the master plan,” Robertson said. Again, not top of mind for residents. The safety issue — mostly meaning cyclists — came to the fore with double fatality in May 2022 that caused a rapid change in speed limits and enforcement. 

Finding the answer to the Rickenbacker’s vexing traffic — long or short term — is akin to solving a Rubik’s Cube where all stakeholders must align. 

When Williamson was reached on the topic earlier this week he was coordinating with the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County. “Lots of moving parts here,” he said in an email. “We have a captive audience today that I am working with.”

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“We were looking at the long-term solutions, which is the master plan, which is not coming anytime soon. So we need to work with the county and the city on how we better control traffic now,” he said.

Williamson said he will address Council at Tuesday’s meeting on efforts to increase traffic flow during the height of the tourist season. It won’t be easy.

Following back-to-back music festivals at Miami Marine Stadium, this weekend will bring the Miami International Regatta Saturday and the Key Biscayne Half Marathon on Sunday. Then long-planned renovations of the I-95 North flyover exit will start on April 14, meaning the Rickenbacker exit will be closed and traffic will be rerouted through Brickell.

Beaches at Virginia Key, Crandon Park and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State park are also more in demand, Williamson said, since Miami Beach has increased parking garage fees and taken a stand against spring breakers. 

State Rep. Vicki Lopez got an earful at the meeting of the Key Biscayne Neighbors Association on Tuesday where former Mayoral Candidate Fausto Gomez said every weekend residents are prisoners in their own home because of traffic.

This photo taken on April 2, 2024 shows the exit to the Riceknbacker Causeway and Key Biscayne on Interstate 95. (KBI Photo/John Pacenti)

Gomez told Lopez the Village wasn’t meeting with Miami and Miami-Dade to try to resolve traffic issues. Williamson and Police Chief Frank Sousa have said they have met with both numerous times this year on the issue.

To a great extent, kvetching about traffic is Key Biscayne’s annual rite of spring.

“This is as reliable as the birds heading north this time of year. We have bad traffic because you have the best beach days of the year and the best time of the year for special events — it’s a rough combo,” said Jeremy Gauger, the Village’s director of building, planning and zoning.

Sousa said Marine Stadium should not hold large events like it did on March 20 and 21st when the Afterlife electronic music festival drew some 15,000 concertgoers. The traffic was reminiscent of the disaster that occurred with the Ultra Music Festival in 2019 where attendees roamed the middle of the causeway between cars that backed up into Brickell.

Sousa this week said there are other issues at play, as well. “The event does contribute to traffic, but the lane closure at the base of the William Powell Bridge also does,” he said, referring to the right lane closure due to the Hobe Beach Park North renovation.

A permanent solution may be the only relief for residents, which leads back to the Rickenbacker Master Plan. The plan sprung to life as a solution after the Miami-Dade County Commission torpedoed the Plan Z concept that envisioned a public-private partnership.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that a new plan should involve consensus from stakeholders, promising that Key Biscayne would have a prominent seat at the table. Other key players are the City, the federal and state governments, educational institutions, and even civic groups like Friends of Commodore Trail.

Key Biscayne produced its own Rickenbacker Causeway Plan Study in 2023 that proposed express lanes for residents. Some areas are elevated over intersections near MAST Academy and the Rickenbacker Marina, Gauger said. 

“The County sort of took it and ran with it at their pace, which is to say that we’re participating in the ongoing master planning effort happening right now,” Gauger said.

In the meantime, some residents populated the Island’s WhatsApp chats this week with demands for a flyover design in the master plan that would whisk residents over traffic jams.

“Well, that’s not going to happen,” Williamson said. 

Williamson on Saturday called to clarify the remark. While there is no plan for a massive flyover element that reaches from I-95 to Key Biscayne, the administration supports an elevated roadway on Virginia Key to expedite traffic, he said.

Editor’s Note: This story updates a previous version to include a clarification by Village Manager Steve Williamson on an elevated roadway design.

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.