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With residents up in arms over being prisoners in their own homes because of traffic backups on the Rickenbacker Causeway, the Village held a Council workshop Wednesday to mollify the masses. 

At the standing-room-only meeting, residents heard from County planners ideas to ease traffic, such as using ferries to float concertgoers to Miami Marine Stadium. They also heard that major renovations to the six-mile span could take up to 20 years to complete. 

There was a brief mention of the unprecedented traffic jam April 14 that snaked into Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and jammed up local streets where some motorists were stuck for up to eight hours. 

This workshop focused on the Rickenbacker Causeway Master Plan, an interagency attempt to build consensus after the County scrapped a public-private partnership concept known as “Plan Z” in 2022. The master plan, a work in progress, envisions express lanes, traffic circles and less left turn lanes – and raising the Bear Cut Bridge up to 16 feet

Mayor Joe Rasco said the Village’s objectives besides traffic flow include separate bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

Stewart Robertson, engineer, Kimley-Horn, speaks at a May 1, 2024 workshop on the Rickenbacker Master Plan. (KBI Photo/John Pacenti)

The workshop was a redo for Paola Baez, the County’s Transportation Department chief of multimodal development, and Stewart Robertson, the affable engineer brought in to help forge that consensus. The two had listed “improved trip reliability” as seven out of eight on a list of priorities at the March 12 Council meeting.

Robertson said that some upgrades can take up to two decades because funding still must be secured from the state and federal governments.

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“My impression is that nothing will be going forward anytime soon because they know they don’t have the money and the County won’t want to push something that has little chance of success,” said former Council Member Luis de la Cruz after the workshop ended.

Key Biscayne officials have said the traffic jam last month was due to the Florida Department of Transportation failing to listen to them and that closing down the on-ramps from the Rickenbacker to I-95 and Interstate 1 would be catastrophic. 

Council Member Brett Moss asked Baez if the County could limit the size of events Miami holds on Virginia Key, such as the Afterlife electronic festival that caused another massive jam on March 20.

“This is our roadway. It goes through a permitting process. I have to check exactly what the permitting process is and then we can work on putting limitations on it. But that’s something we can control,” Baez said.

Robertson said there are other solutions short of canceling a boat show or a concert. “I think one of the things is the idea of doing what’s called ‘transportation alternatives’: ferries, shuttles, restricting parking,” Robertson said.

Florida Department of Transportation combined project area map of current planned repairs to Interstate 95. (Photo/FDOT)

He said ferries could leave from the Bayside MarketPlace or South Beach Marina while parking would be limited to those with special needs. People could also be shuttled over in buses similar to big sporting events, such as PGA Golf Tournaments, he said. Ferries were used at the 2019 Ultra Concert on Virginia Key, an event marred by severe traffic problems. 

The crowd offered its ideas, but there were no officials from the City of Miami. 

Robert Vernon, a former mayor and former member of the Virginia Key Advisory Board, said the City of Miami is undoing previous decisions by the board to “monetize the island.”

“The city of Miami is not an easy partner,” said Council Member Frank Caplan.

Mike Davey, former mayor and current U.S. House candidate, who tried to stop the Ultra concert, said Miami Mayor Francis Suarez was unsympathetic about the April 14 traffic jam that paralyzed the island.

“He says, ‘You know what your problem is. You all are allowing people to go to the beaches,’” Davey recalled at a meeting of local Democrats last month.

 “I’m thinking they’re not our beaches. It’s a state park. It’s a County park. And, by the way, the people who were stuck in this traffic jam are your taxpayers who pay for these beaches they have a right to enjoy.”

Rep. Vicki Lopez, contacted by Davey and Joe Rasco, ended up calling Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office to FDOT to reopen the ramps. Still, crew are replacing concrete and other upgrades and working at night. Thursday night the flyover to U.S. 1 will be closed with little disruption.

Village Manager Steve Williamson said he is in contact with FDOT and will alert residents to any closures.

Another Rickenbacker forum is planned for July 2 featuring Lopez. It will involve state, County, and City of Miami officials. 

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.