In the wake of perhaps-calamitous news about unusually high tides next year in a city already known for poor drainage infrastructure – and this administration’s foresight in mitigation plans – residents received good news last week after a visit by Mayor Philip Levine and City Manager Jimmy Morales.
Levine and Morales met with Governor Rick Scott, the Secretary of Transportation, and the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection to discuss the lower Alton Road construction project and to explore ways to expedite construction and completion of the project.
For residents, it’s hard to imagine a better outcome. The State has changed its project target completion date to December 31, 2014 – a full seven months ahead of schedule.
Levine said that the City’s delegation was successful for several reasons.
“One, the governor has been very responsive to me,” Levine said. “He visits Miami and Miami Beach frequently and understands the pressing needs we have for Alton Road.
“Secondly, we have built a good relationship with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and District Secretary Gus Pego.
“Lastly, the governor made sure that when we went to Tallahassee, he set us up with the Secretary of Transportation.
“They were very professional and very business-like,” Levine continued. “We come from similar backgrounds, in business. In the private sector, you realize it’s about getting things done.”
Success working with State officials is based on “building relationships,” Levine said.
“We have found that the administration in Tallahassee has been cooperative with Miami Beach,” he added.
The completed project will alleviate traffic congestion and street flooding with the installation of three new pump stations. Additionally, the City of Miami Beach will be strategically installing over 30 pump stations throughout Miami Beach to reduce flooding.
“That’s going to take place over several years,” Levine sad. “But we are planning for the next 20-30 years, not just for the next few years.”
Flooding has become a major issue for Miami Beach this year. Although flooding in areas such as Alton Road and other parts of the city, a task force recently addressed the potential severity of the issue.
Scott Robins, chair of the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Flooding Mitigation and Sea Level Rise told SunPost just weeks ago: “I don’t think they took the time to realize what studies revealed and think they just sat on their hands,” Robins said. “Studies are only as good as who commissions them.”
In particular, Robins said that the drainage components of development projects under works and in the pipeline, citywide, are “under-designed.
“At the first meeting of the task force, the first action [discussed] was that any project under construction had to be stopped,” and the drainage component redesigned, Robins added.
Robins said that often not considered frequently or considerably enough previously was the level of expectation of residents when it comes to flooding and mitigation for it. Robins – both a preservationist and developer – also pointed out that the reason for inadequate design guidelines for drainage is not because the cost could have been considered burdensome to development interests.
Based on recommendations the task force submitted to the City officially, Robins said, “We’re talking about a $6 million drainage project having cost $7 million. Question: Is it too expensive? Answer: No.”
The commission took quick action on the first recommendation from the task force, in increasing high water mitigation plans for development projects underway and in the pipeline.
Likewise, the City of Miami Beach has engaged in an effort to alleviate some of the traffic that develops as a result of the work on Lincoln Road.
In an effort to improve access during construction, the City of Miami Beach launched a free trolley service last month that operates from Fifth Street to Lincoln Road, along Alton Road and West Avenue, with 21 stops along the way. Trolleys service runs approximately every 10 minutes from 8 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Sunday. The city also negotiated free, four hour parking at the Fifth & Alton Garage with the use of a trolley voucher.
But while Robins insisted the flooding situation does not look dire, he also admits that there is a lot that neither the task force nor scientists who specialize in the area know.
“The science is not all in,” Robins said. “Scientists can’t even agree; we all need another 10-15 years to really know.”
Factoring into need are the King Tides, unusually high tides that science seems to believe, are caused by an uncommon astral alliance and thus predictable. They are expected to occur in the next year or so and could affect sea level.
Robins said he has been working with very aware, sober city employees and administrators that are well aware of the challenges ahead. He also said complete solutions to the city’s drainage problems are expensive, but not cost-prohibitive.
Residents remain tired of the construction and the ongoing flooding that necessitated it.
“It isn’t like the flooding is new,” said local resident Peter Schmitt. “It’s been like this for years and I don’t know what they tried to do to fix it before, but it sure didn’t work. I am glad they moved the time frame up. I just hope this fix works.”