The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is proposing a double-decking and expansion of the I-195 / Julia Tuttle Causeway with the intention of alleviating traffic congestion and improving safety. Transit Alliance Miami and other organizations have attended the first Community Advisory Group meeting held by FDOT and raised concerns about the project's potential shortcomings and negative impacts on the community and the environment.
Transit Alliance calls on FDOT to:
- Prioritize active transportation and pedestrians instead of merely adding more lanes.
- Confirm the design feasibility of the proposed shared-use path (SUP) for bike and pedestrian use.
- Ensure a suitable alternative is included if environmental concerns affect the current SUP design; this is non-negotiable.
- Address indirect contributions to climate change (i.e., greenhouse gas emissions) and the increase in climate vulnerability to nearby communities as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and as agreed upon in FDOT’s latest Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Highway Administration.
- Prioritize safety for all road users through a comprehensive safety audit, including but not limited to:
- The potential impact to driver safety from adding additional lanes and the implications for merging, lane changes, and diverging movements.
- The impact of proposed highway expansions on pedestrian and cyclist safety.
- The crossing distances for pedestrians at crosswalks, with the consideration that the longer the crossing distance, the more vulnerable pedestrians are.
- Avoid exacerbating the disconnection of communities by focusing on seamless transportation for non-motorized vehicles.
- Hold themselves accountable to any budget or timeline set in this project.
- Prioritize sustainable, active transportation modes without exacerbating existing community or environmental issues.
The Full Picture
The project, which is in the Project Development & Evaluation phase (PD&E), proposes building an additional highway atop a portion of the current I-195 with goals that include alleviating traffic congestion and providing safety improvements on and off the causeway. Because the project is in its early stages, we are in the process of gathering and validating information on the project and would like to provide a few updates regarding its status and our campaign. As new information becomes available, we will continue to provide updates.
On Monday, April 4th, FDOT’s project management and communications team hosted the first Community Advisory Group (CAG) meeting, which included representatives from Transit Alliance Miami, the Design District, the City of Miami Beach, and other organizations. Transit Alliance was invited to participate in the CAG thanks to the letters you sent and a pending public records request filed with FDOT District 6.
FDOT stated that it “will look for transit opportunities,” but has yet to demonstrate this outside of a proposed Shared Use Path (SUP) for bike/pedestrian usage with an independent right-of-way. The viability of the proposed SUP—which would require building new infrastructure over Biscayne Bay, a legally protected Florida waterway—has not been confirmed. Transit Alliance will be following up with project managers to ensure that, if environmental concerns affect the current bike/pedestrian improvement design, an adequate alternative is included in the construction.
The project provides no direct treatment in terms of dedicated bus service but defers, instead, to an ongoing “Bus On Shoulder” (BOS) project being constructed this year [1, 2]. While the BOS project designates a space on the shoulder for buses, this is not a dedicated bus lane. Dedicated bus lanes, and adequate bus frequency, will allow for more people to move within the same area. When pressed for comment, a project manager stated that, “If [FDOT] builds dedicated bus lanes and the County cannot provide the buses, then the lanes are useless….” Not only are there buses already routed on the causeway, but the route is also included within the County’s SMART Program for bus express rapid transit (BERT) improvements. It is important to note that, while DTPW struggles to overcome a national shortage in bus operators, including BERT in this project would serve the multi-faceted purpose of reducing I-195’s traffic congestion, bus wait times, and the number of total bus operators required to run the Metrobus system effectively.
Another concern of this project is that the proposed double-decker construction of highways above existing portions of I-195, between I-95 and the Bay, may preclude the County’s ability to extend the Metromover over I-195 in the future, per the existing proposed plans.
Transit, bicycle, and pedestrian improvements have been listed as one of the primary goals of this project.
While the primary goal of the expansion is to improve traffic flow conditions along the I-195, there is reasonable concern that this project, as proposed, will only serve to increase pressures on the roadway (a process known as “induced demand”) . A scientifically robust number of studies already demonstrate that highway/lane expansions typically result in equal, if not worse, levels of traffic congestion over time[4, 5, 6, 7].
The main problem along the I-195 is not one of capacity but of “drainage,” or the exiting of vehicles from the highway. With limited right-of-way in Wynwood, Design District, and Miami Beach in particular, cars will inevitably have to stop and wait at the bottlenecks; the only difference is that, with the double-decker, there are now more vehicles that need to exit. Although the double-decker highway may increase safety for existing vehicle capacity, which we understand, we are concerned of the potential for additional demand and, ultimately, vehicle collisions that could be added over time by constructing new lanes. The optimal solution is to move people more efficiently along the causeway via transit, saving scarce space and easing traffic congestion in a safer, more cost-effective manner.
Simply allowing more cars to bypass the on and off-ramps from I-95 does not address where those people go in other locations. It is important that this project does not shift congestion to other locations but acts to facilitate the “T” in FDOT—Transportation—which includes other mobility options other than personal vehicles.
FDOT already acknowledges that the corridor has major safety problems, with their own data showing that there were 3,461 crashes over the last five years (avg. two crashes per day) . The same area had dozens of people lose their lives as a result of vehicle crashes. The Airport Expressway, I-195, and the surrounding area are dangerous by design and inherently contribute to the thousands of crashes that have occurred there. FDOT's current solution focuses on increasing vehicle capacity by adding more highway lanes, which may not address the core safety issues at hand. One example of this is the absence of safety barriers under the existing and planned interchange for eastbound traffic on SR-112, a collision hotspot. Expanding the highway capacity leads to increased traffic flow, only to result in bottlenecks on local roads, creating additional safety risks and congestion.
As FDOT moves forward with this project, we call on FDOT to prioritize the safety of all road users, including those in vehicles, pedestrians, and on bikes or small modes of transportation. A comprehensive safety audit of the study area is essential to identify high-risk locations and integrate safety improvements into the project design. The safety study should include research on the potential impact to driver safety from adding additional highway lanes and the implications for merging, lane changes, and diverging movements. At grade, the safety audit should also examine the crossing distances for pedestrians, considering that the longer the crossing distance, the more vulnerable pedestrians are. We must evaluate the impact of proposed highway expansions on pedestrian and cyclist safety and seriously consider alternative solutions that prioritize sustainable, active transportation modes.
Additionally, the more conflict points between cars and pedestrians, the higher the crash probability. FDOT should also consider adding raised and signalized crossings in any slip lanes that are being added to this project. The visibility of pedestrians is also critical for their safety, especially concerning site lines as drivers enter and exit the highway.
Multiple questions were posed to the FDOT project team regarding a plausible increase in carbon pollution resulting from this project. The general response from FDOT was that the Department is not responsible for conducting an emissions assessment during the PD&E process. The team failed to provide a clear answer identifying the responsible regulatory authority for carbon emissions resulting from their roadway projects. The latest agreement between FDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) indicates that FDOT is, in fact, liable . In April 2022, the Biden administration reintroduced important “climate safeguards”  under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that hold state DOTs accountable for the “indirect” effects of a project, including an increase in carbon pollution. The Memorandum of Understanding between FDOT and FHWA was finalized in May 2022, a month later.
Transportation is responsible for 55% of Miami-Dade County’s carbon emissions . South Florida is already experiencing the adverse effects of human-caused climate change, including flooding from both rain and king tides, saltwater intrusion of our drinking water supplies, and intensifying hurricanes. By continuing to prioritize highways and personal vehicle use, this project indirectly contributes to rising sea levels and the increased vulnerability of Miami Beach and other low-lying communities. Florida’s growing risk of flooding is one of the greatest liabilities driving up property insurance costs in the state , which are projected to increase by as much as 40 percent in 2023  and are already 4x the national average.
The Julia Tuttle Causeway runs across Biscayne Bay, a legally-protected Outstanding Florida Water. The project’s only multimodal improvement is a proposed Shared Use Path (SUP) with an independent right-of-way, requiring new construction in the bay that would harm seagrass and put other natural resources at risk. With Biscayne Bay on the verge of ecological collapse, it is all but clear whether the SUP will survive the NEPA review due to its impacts on the surrounding ecosystem. Consider this: an expanded highway is likely to pass environmental review while the multimodal bike path, which was deliberately designed to form a new bridge across the bay, may not meet the environmental design criteria. Transit Alliance is requesting an expedited review on the design’s feasibility under NEPA to ensure that an adequate solution for a protected shared use plan is included in the final construction; this is non-negotiable.
Highway expansions have a long history of dividing and disconnecting communities across Miami by creating immense physical barriers that tear apart the social fabric of our cities . These barriers, including I-95, which this highway connects to, had a devastating impact on Overtown. Eighty-four percent of residents living within the I-195’s study area are people of color and 21% are below the poverty line .
As our highways slice through our neighborhoods, they effectively fragment our city, depriving our communities of access to jobs, essential services, and educational opportunities unless individuals own a car. As the project aims to expand and double-deck the highway on the mainland, it will create an even more imposing vertical barrier between Overtown and Wynwood Norte, Edgewater, Midtown, and the Design District and Little Haiti, creating additional obstacles for seamless transportation in the area.
At grade, the proposed Texas U-turns in the current design plans and additional north-to-south vehicle lanes will lengthen crosswalk distances, further endangering people not in vehicles, and further separating these dense urban communities. These large intersections are also dangerous for people in vehicles. The Underdeck, located just one exit south on I-95, aims to reconnect communities; the proposed modifications of this project must do the same to avoid the same mistakes of the past.
Accountability to the Public
In light of the recent announcement regarding the significant delay and budget overrun for a similar project south of this location, we call on FDOT to address the public's concerns and demand accountability and its contractors. Our downtown core has been plagued by the impacts and delays of the construction of the I-195 Signature Bridget Project, and the public deserves reassurance that this project will not suffer the same fate .
As the project moves forward, we stress the importance of transparency and accountability in managing public funds and ensuring the efficient and timely completion of this project if it is approved. Delays and budget overruns have, time and time again, strained public resources and undermined the community's trust in the government and its contractors. We hope FDOT can explain to the public how they learned from their prior mistakes on other projects like the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project and the SR 826/SR 836 Interchange Reconstruction Project.
FDOT and its partners must provide clear and detailed information on the measures being taken to prevent further delays and budget overruns on the I-395/SR 836/I-95 project. Transit Alliance recommends establishing a mechanism for regular progress updates and external oversight to ensure adherence to the agreed-upon timeline and budget. The public deserves guarantees that all parties involved are held accountable for their commitments and that the project will be completed on time and within budget.