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After resident Jennifer Stearns Buttrick asked the Key Biscayne Council if a planned repair of the flyovers from the Rickenbacker Causeway could be postponed, Police Chief Frank Sousa followed her out of the chamber at the April 9 meeting.

“Chief Sousa knew it was going to be a mess and he told me they tried to get the Florida Department of Transportation to do it another time, to do the north flyover first and then the south. And really, they refused to budge,” Stearns Buttrick said of the exchange.

Sousa, when asked about the conversation said, “We expressed our concerns.” Mayor Joe Rasco and Village Manager Steve Williamson, in a sit-down interview on Monday, said the same.

Sunday’s traffic meltdown was the greatest multi-agency screw-up since a mammoth traffic failure at the Ultra Music Festival on Virginia Key in 2019. And like Ultra, the problems were foreseen. 

Cars in a 7-mile traffic jam on the William Powell Bridge exiting Key Biscayne, Sunday April 14 2024 The jam came on the first day of two-month closure of the flyover ramp from Key Biscayne to I-95 and U.S. 1. (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

Then as now, Key Biscayne finds itself playing the tragic Greek figure Cassandra when it comes to traffic issues. Like Cassandra, the Village can foresee a traffic disaster but no one – the City of Miami, Miami-Dade County, FDOT – seems to take heed. 

“I’m not really sure what the hell is happening with the Village of Key Biscayne right now. It appears to me that we are always reacting and not being proactive and I think that needs to change,” former Council Member Luis de la Cruz said. 

Before Ultra, the Village mounted an aggressive public relations campaign. It didn’t stop the concert, but the island won a place in the traffic command center. The campaign alerted residents, many of whom simply left town that weekend.

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Rasco insists that the Village did all it could to avert disaster.

“Our staff was fully engaged. In the end, it’s not something feasible for us to tell FDOT that they can’t do their project,” he said. “We told them in the strongest terms that it was inadequate. It’s just one of those unfortunate things.” 

The concerns were sent to FDOT District 6 Secretary Stacy Miller, said Steve Williamson, the Village manager. He said Miami-Dade County shared the Village’s belief that a plan to reroute traffic through Coconut Grove and Brickell was flawed. Sousa also spoke to the Miami-Dade Police Department about the gridlock traffic to come if the lanes were closed.

Public Works Director Cairo Cangas reiterated the Village’s concern and there was a meeting with FDOT on April 10.  In the end, the agency’s engineers just wouldn’t change their plans to close both flyovers to U.S. 1 and I-95, Williamson said.

FDOT used March 30, 2024 data that 20,000 vehicles used the Rickenbacker on that sunny day, Williamson said. “The engineers’ estimate of the impact was wrong,” he said.

The project not only coincided with the peak of the tourist season but also an ongoing lane closure due to the renovation of North Hobe Beach Park.

A resident speaks to a Key Biscayne police officer about the traffic jam on Sunday, April 14, 2024. (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

Motorists were trapped for up to seven hours making for a surreal scene throughout the island. At one point some stranded motorists formed a conga line and danced through the line of vehicles. 

The traffic backup was so epic it made local television news, went viral on social media and even inspired The Miami Herald to write an op-ed.

Rasco asked state Rep. Vicki Lopez for help and it was Lopez who went right to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office. On Tuesday, both lanes were open for traffic again while the VIllage waited on new plans by FDOT on how the flyovers will be repaired.

Many questions remain. 

Who at FDOT insisted on using its traffic analysis and will this unknown engineer face any professional consequences?

What will Miami-Dade County do?

Rasco said Miami-Dade Commissioner Raquel Regalado wants to help to be able to get the message to all of the County residents when there is a traffic concern on the Rickenbacker – whether it be Construction or an event at Miami Marine Stadium.

The boat show is slated for next month and is expected to bring 30,000 people over two days.

Lane closures on the Rickenbacker Causeway due to Hobe Park North rennovation on April 15, 2024. (KBI Photo/John Pacenti)

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.