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11/15/03: South Florida Business Journal

I-395 feasability study to resume, Miami-Dade says

Paola Iuspa-Abbott

The state will analyze tearing down elevated Interstate 395 in downtown Miami and rebuilding it in a broad ditch to remove a perceived barrier between the performing arts center and AmericanAirlines Arena neighborhoods.

The Florida Department of Transportation will resume a study started in 1994 to correct design problems on the expressway linking the mainland to Miami Beach. Initial plans to widen the existing structure have been on hold for at least eight years because of a lack of public support and funding.

The new study will center on a completely new design that could become reality sometime in the next two decades. The 1994 report noted structural deficiencies, poor alignments and safety deficiencies.
Given the go-ahead

The Metropolitan Planning Organization, responsible for the transportation planning process in Miami-Dade County, last month directed the state to go ahead with a Project Development and Environmental study on its favored "open-cut" alternative. It consists of an I-395 slightly north of its current location - to make it less curvy - and below ground level.

Northbound and southbound streets, including North Miami Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard, would pass over the highway, similar to a tunnel without a top. The Florida East Coast Railroad tracks would also cross over the highway. I-395 would slope down from the ramp at I-95 until it reaches the McArthur Causeway on Biscayne Bay.

The state will study the feasibility of this proposal and consider other alternatives, department officials said.

County Commission Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz are the cheerleaders behind this proposal. They headed the MPO's I-395 Committee, which gave birth to the $550 million concept.

Both said the new expressway would help revitalize Overtown, one of the county's poorest areas. The mostly black, low-income neighborhood is east of I-95, west of Biscayne Boulevard and north of Miami's business district. About 52 percent of its families live in poverty. The median family income is $13,212, according to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau.

While the new design would free up about 40 acres for a park on the south side of the relocated highway, the state would need to buy land north of the existing expressway. It would need to acquire parcels and flatten businesses and homes on the north side, at Northeast 13th Street, a block south of the $370 million performing arts center set to open in early 2006. Property value on the former industrial neighborhood surrounding the arts center has more than tripled in the past four years. Rundown warehouses now sell for at least $130 s square foot and land for about $70 a square foot, said Gil Terem, an area business and property owner.

County Commissioner Dorin Rolle, an MPO member, said it was pivotal to build affordable housing in the same ZIP code for families likely to be displaced. He wants to prevent history from repeating itself. At least 12,000 families were forced to abandon Overtown in the 1960s, when I-95 and I-395 were built, slicing through a thriving black village, elected officials said.

"It is important that we don't just make promises and do what is right for the people in that community," he said.
Available for development

About one-third of Overtown is vacant and available for development, said community activist Irving McKnight.

"They can build housing there," he said.

Miami city officials and the MPO will be responsible for adopting legislation necessary to promote affordable housing for those set to lose their homes, Carey-Shuler said.

McKnight and other community members early this year opposed rerouting I-395, as they feared massive relocations. They also had said the open-cut design would further isolate Overtown. But they changed their mind after meeting with Diaz, Carey-Shuler and other MPO members, he said.

McKnight was assured his community would be included in discussions leading to a final design and expressway reconstruction.

"This time, I am at the table with them" he said. "Before, I wasn't."

But some were not so optimistic.

"Everybody comes here [county hall] trying to make some money," resident Linda Watson said. "I am here trying to keep a roof over my head. Just leave us where we are."

E-mail Miami-Dade real estate/international business writer Paola Iuspa-Abbott at