Category Archives: Development

Projects proposed on Belle Isle and nearby, including buildings and roads.

Activists say upcoming Venetian Causeway bridge closing requires creative solutions to traffic, safety

If you haven’t heard by now, Miami-Dade engineers have concluded that the structural problems with the westernmost Venetian Way bridge to Miami mean it will have to be rebuilt.

They estimate that about six months from now, they will begin demolishing the span between the Miami Herald site and the drawbridge. Demolition and reconstruction is expected to take six to nine months, but who knows how long it will really take. We’ve all been through construction projects before.

Obviously, that will make the drive from one of our islands to the Omni area a longer trip, and much more of a hassle. But several of your Venetian Way neighbors say there is opportunity in adversity.

The folks with the West Avenue Neighborhood Alliance (WAVNA)  and Transit Miami have asked for creative suggestions from residents on how to minimize the traffic impact, as well as provide safe alternatives for bicyclists and pedestrians.

You can email WAVNA at westavenuesobe@gmail.com.

Several Venetian Isle Homeowner Association want to appeal to the Coast Guard to lock down the east drawbridge during the construction, so an emergency path will always be open for fire rescue vehicles. It’s an interesting idea, but Miami-Dade representatives say they have asked for bridge opening restrictions, and getting action from the Coast Guard is a painfully slow process.

And in a letter to Venetian Way Neighborhood Alliance members, President Jack Hartog said the upcoming bridge closing presents a chance to reshape how Venetian residents and the community at large views the historic road between Miami and Miami Beach:

“With this current challenge, however, comes opportunity.  When we renamed ourselves Venetian Way (from Venetian Causeway Neighborhood Alliance) at our 2013 annual meeting, we did so to change the perception of Venetian Way (the official name of the street uniting the Venetian Islands). Venetian Way has always run through our residential neighborhoods; it has always been the most beautiful way to get vistas of Miami; it has always been the best (and often the only way) for pedestrians, bicyclists and other non-auto enthusiasts to get safely from the beach to the city and vice-versa. 

But over the years, despite the McArthur and Julia Tuttle, many have increasingly perceived Venetian Way as at least a secondary, and for many a primary, motorway to get to and from Miami Beach. Our goal, by renaming our organization, has been to change this perception: public policy should treat Venetian Way not as a motorway between the beach and city, but as a safe sanctuary for all pedestrians, bicyclists, all non-auto enthusiasts to visit and take advantage of Venetian Way’s awesome vistas without constant traffic and accompanying congestion inspiring unsafe conditions. 

And here is the point of this email.  During this period of bridge reconstruction of the far west section of Venetian Way, effectively making it a dead end coming from the beach, Venetian Way will be used for only three purposes: (1) the mode for residents to get on and off the islands; (2) the only manner by which governmental (such as emergency, police, fire, public transit and waste removal) and needed private services have access to residents; and (3) a safe and peaceful street for pedestrian (including joggers and skaters), bicyclists, tourists and others to enjoy the inspiring beauty of our islands and their views. These are the core uses of Venetian Way, not as a motorway between the city and the beach, even after the west bridge is repaired.

  So when that section of the bridge closes, blocking all traffic using Venetian Way as a thruway between city and beach, let’s use this period to embed the real nature of Venetian Way in public consciousness and public policy. 

Ending commuter passes, the recent change to the toll structure, appears to be one such step in this correct direction.  As much as we understand the convenience of Venetian Way for those who live near (a mile or so) from either entrance to Venetian Way as a motorway between the beach and the city, the toll structure should treat them like all other non-residents: use Venetian Way for your walking, running, exercising and bicycling, not as a through street.  And when the new west section of Venetian Way is re-opened in the latter half of 2015, and SunPass fully kicks in at the toll booth, signage and other measures should be implemented that direct and encourage through traffic to use streets meant for through traffic, not Venetian Way.


Westernmost Venetian Causeway bridge to be closed, rebuilt

The structural problems on the Venetian Causeway’s westernmost bridge mean part of the bridge must be demolished and replaced, Miami-Dade County’s top engineer told the Venetian Way Neighborhood Alliance Tuesday night.

The work will require residents of the Venetian islands to use either the MacArthur or Julia Tuttle causeways to get to mainland Miami.

The bridge won’t be closed for four to six months, Miami-Dade County Engineer Antonio Cotarelo told residents gathered at a meeting at 1000 Venetian Way, so the county can do design work and go through the process of hiring a contractor.

Demolishing and rebuilding the 730 feet of bridge closest to mainland Miami will take an additional six to nine months, Cotarelo said.

There are 12 bridges that link Miami near the old Miami Herald building with Miami Beach near Lincoln Road, part of an historic roadway completed in 1927. Parts of it have been renovated, and the county w in the process of evaluating the condition of the bridges.

But on March 15, a Metro-Dade Transit bus crossing the westernmost bridge heading to Miami Beach got stuck.

“A portion of bridge fell and a hole opened up,” Cotarelo said.

The bridge was closed. Engineers conducted special inspections to evaluate the underside of the bridge. In several places, steel plates were put in place so cars could safely cross. And the county imposed new weight limits for vehicles crossing the bridge, and suspended bus service between mainland Miami and San Marco island.

Now they have determined the bridge can’t be repaired, it must be replaced.

“The end result is aboiut 730 feet nearest to the Miami Herald building will have to be replaced,” Cotarelo said. “We looked at other options…..what we are heading to now is an expedited procurement process for rebuilding the 730 feet of the bridge from the bottom up.”

“We will have to close down that bridge completely so there will be no access to the bridge.”

The county will try and coordinate construction schedules with the Florida Department of Transportation, which already is in the midst of the major road rebuilding project on Alton road — at the eastern end of the Venetian Causeway. But the work will contribute more congestion in the western side of South Beach.

Because of the structural problems, the county has limited the weight of vehicles crossing the westernmost bridge to 5 tons, and imposed an 11 ton limit on the other Venetian bridges. They are notifying regular causeway users — like FPL, Waste Management, landscaping companies and others — so they can use smaller, lighter vehicles.

The Miami Fire Department has made special arrangements to ensure the Venetian isles served by Miami — Biscayne and San Marco — are safe.

Deputy Fire Chief Freddy Fernandez said the city has placed a fire truck on Biscayne Island at a secure condominium that can quickly be put into service on those islands without having the cross the drawbridge. And Miami Fire has an emergency agreement with Miami Beach Fire.

Representatives of Miami-Dade Transit, who also attending the VWNA meeting, said they were trying to locate a smaller, lighter bus that could provide service between the islands and mainland Miami until the bridge is demolished.

Albert Hernandez of Miami-Dade Transit said the county has found a 6 ton bus, and staff is working with Public Works engineers to determine if it can be used. Cotarela said he thought a decision on using the smaller bus could be made within a week.

A Belle Isle resident complained that the county had ceased running the South Beach Local bus route on Belle Isle, even though the bridge on the east end of the causeway can accommodate more weight. Transit representatives said they had a solution to that service disruption.

The news about the bridge demolition overshadowed a discussion about the planned conversion of the Venetian toll system to SunPass, which is supposed to take place this summer. The bridge work may begin before SunPass is in place.

 

Venetian Way Neighborhood Alliance meets Tuesday to talk SunPass, buses, landscaping, bridge repair

The Venetian Way Neighborhood Alliance — an organization that includes all the Miami and Miami Beach groups on along our historic roadway — holds its annual meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

We’ll learn about the upcoming toll plaza conversion to SunPass from Mike Bauman, who oversees the causeway. We’ll hear about the structural issues on Venetian Way bridges and plans to repair and restore them from the Miami-Dade Public Works engineer, Tony Cotarela.

Do you have a question about bus service to Venetian islands? About landscape maintenance along Venetian Way?

Come to the meetingTuesday night. It happens at 1000 Venetian Way in the community room, on Biscayne Island, and no, you can’t take a bus there. At least not right now.

 

Belle Isle water service restored; boil water order affects 2000 households

Late Monday, city of Miami Beach public works crews fixed the water main break in front of the Standard Hotel on Belle Isle and restored service to  households on the island.

Air conditioners kicked on, but the water from the pipes looked a little brown and not so great. The city announced a precautionary boil water advisory for 2000 households on Belle Isle, in both the high-rise condos and apartments and the small bungalow homes on Farrey Lane and Century Lane.

Typically the boil water order lasts 48 hours, but it won’t be lifted until water samples test clean.

Venetian Way neighborhood meeting to focus on Sunpass, bridges issues

vwnaThe Venetian Way Neighborhood Alliance holds its annual meeting on April 22, and the switch to Sunpass for the Venetian tolls and needed repairs to bridges top the agenda.

Mike Bauman, who oversees the causeway for Miami-Dade County, will give an overview of what island residents can expect this summer when toll collection becomes entirely automatic through SunPass, and toll-takers no longer collect cash. Bauman recently gave details about those plans to the blog.

And Miami-Dade Public Works will elaborate on the events that led to the west drawbridge closure and planned repairs to the bridges.

Hartog said that though the county has been planning bridge repairs for some time — they’ve been discussed in previous Venetian Way Neighborhood Alliance meetings as well as Belle Isle Residents Association meetings — an incident last month triggered more urgency.

On March 18, Hartog said, a Metrobus got its tire stuck in a pothole on the westernmost bridge. That led to the patchwork of asphalt and metal that was set in place during the last several weeks, and Wednesday night’s sudden closure for repairs.

By the way, the county heard loud and clear from residents that they deserved more than a day’s notice of the closure plan.

“Thirty hours ahead is just not enough,” Hartog said, noting that some residents don’t open their email immediately. Days would have been more appropriate notice than hours.

The county has “learned their lesson, I hope” on communicating better, he said.

In addition to Bauman, Miami-Dade County engineer Tony Cotarela is expected to speak at the meeting, which happens April 22 at 7 p.m. at 1000 Venetian Way on Biscayne Island.

If you are interested in joining the alliance, here you go. ,Membership form 2014.doc

 

 

There will also be a discussion of security concerns (there have been more burglaries on DiLido in the last week) and beautification efforts on the islands.

Plan for a Venetian bridge closure — and it may last two nights

This may change your driving direction tonight:

With scant warning, Miami-Dade County Public Works belatedly announced the west Venetian Causeway drawbridge — the one between the mainland and Biscayne Island — will be closed Wednesday night and possibly Thursday night.

The closure will begin at 8 p.m. Wednesday and last until 6 a.m. Thursday. It might be repeated on the same schedule, beginning Thursday evening.

The county gave the news to homeowners groups Tuesday afternoon:

Beginning on Wednesday, April 9, from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m., the West Venetian Bascule Bridge will be closed to vehicular traffic while crews install metal plates along the lanes of traffic.  The areas on the roadway to be plated have been identified as having deterioration.  It may be necessary to close the bridge again on Thursday, April 10 from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. depending on the progress of Wednesday evening’s work activities.

There will be more work on the bridge in coming months, the county said.

It you need to get to the mainland during those hours, you’ll have to use the MacArthur or Julia Tuttle causeways.

What Venetian residents need to know about SunPass and our causeway

If you live on one of the Venetian Way islands, you’ve probably received the renewal application for your annual causeway pass. Each spring, property owners can pay $24 a year to renew their C-Pass transponder, and can cross the causeway toll booth all year for free.

You’ve probably heard that at some point this summer, the C-Pass devices will be replaced by SunPass. That will mean changes in how the causeway operates.

Your Belle Isle Blog spoke with Miami-Dade County Causeways Division Chief Mike Bauman about the timetable for the change, and what it will mean to Venetian Isle residents.

Q. When will the switch to SunPass take place? What will C-Pass holders be required to do?

Bauman: We are on track for the summer, though I cannot nail down a precise date. That is dictated by the Turnpike, which oversees SunPass. When we have a firm date, C-Pass holders will be given plenty of time to buy a SunPass device or have a device they already own programmed to enable them to pass through the toll plaza toll free.

For now, Venetian Island property owners should renew their C-user agreements as they have in past years.

Q. When the change takes place, will we be able to do it by mail or will we have to go the the tollbooth building on the causeway?

Bauman: We recognize it is a chore to come in and renew. We’d like to streamline that process. Back in 2005, after the toll plaza was rebuilt, we came out to the buildings on Belle Isle and held a meeting for island homeowners. We may try to do that again. People will have plenty of notice.

Q. We’ve heard that there will no longer be toll booth operators or toll arms at the toll booth on Biscayne Isle. Is that true?

Bauman: Yes. The toll plaza itself will remain in place. But there will no longer be any cash collected at any of the lanes. There will be one or two lanes open in each direction at all times. It will be free-flowing traffic. It is all electronic. No one needs to stop. Drivers will slow to a safe speed, but will not have to stop.

Q. Do you expect that traffic will still back up in the eastbound direction, as frequently happens at busy times?

Bauman: This change will eliminate those backups. There will be no need for cars to stop at the toll plaza.

Q. Some residents worry that the change will lead to more traffic and speeding on Venetian Way. Do you expect that?

Bauman: We don’t.  The speed limit will still be 25 mph. We will be installing speed feedback signs on causeway, to warn people if they are exceeding the limit, and that is coming soon….The narrowness of the lanes at toll plaza causes people to slow down. So does the narrowness of the lanes on the islands.

Q. Why not leave all three tolls lanes open in each direction?

Bauman: There is no reason for more than two. Because cars won’t have to stop and pay, two lanes will be enough to accommodate the flow of traffic. Three lanes would lead to cars jockeying to get in front of each other when the road narrows.

Q. Is it possible to have variable toll rates on the causeway to discourage its use during busy times?

Bauman: Unfortunately, that won’t work on the Venetian. Imagine if the bridge goes up and there is no traffic doing through. That would cause a toll increase, but not because of the traffic volume. Variable tolling responds to congestion, so that wouldn’t work.

Other times, there might be additional traffic because there is an accident on the MacArthur Causeway and traffic is diverted. Then we’d be penalizing them for getting into a traffic jam.

Q. Could the toll be higher?

Bauman: Those decision are always ultimately made by county commissioners and may be recommended by staff.

Q. For many years, people who were not Venetian Causeway property owners were allowed to by C-Pass transponders for $90 a year. Is that still the case?

Bauman: As of April 1 of this year, you will need to be a Venetian Isles renter or an employee in a an island location to buy to those passes. Others will not be allowed to purchase the $90 pass. (this corrects an earlier version of this post, which said the $90 passes would be eliminated entirely).

Q. We’ve heard that the $24 annual fee for property owners may be eliminated, because the causeway was originally built by a private developer, and the legal agreement transferring it to the county required it be free to property owners. Is it possible the $24 annual administrative fee will be eliminated?

Bauman: That is under discussion at various levels of the county, with public works and the county attorney’s office.

Q. Any advice for Venetian homeowners?

Bauman: Just to advise people that everyone will be required to have a SunPass to have the annual plan. You need to have proof you own property on the causeway, and it helps if the car you are registering has the address of your property.