Easing Traffic — A Tunnel That Would Work

by Bernard McCormick Friday, January 14, 2022 No Comment(s)

The Sun Sentinel recently had several editorials regarding the seemingly unbridled growth being permitted in downtown Fort Lauderdale. One piece dealt with the proposal to put condos in Bahia Mar. The paper urged the city commission to be careful about approving any plan that hurts the annual boat show, and isn't the best deal for taxpayers. Another story dealt with a proposal to build a condo along the New River that is opposed by residents as too tall for its location among much smaller buildings. The idea even has opposition from the Rio Vista neighborhood on the other side of the river. Residents think a trend toward tall buildings so close affects their own low rise quality of life.

The feeling here is the city should approve all new buildings, no matter how tall or ugly, as long as the people who buy in those buildings are not permitted to drive cars. It seems that in approving so much tall construction over the last decade, the city ignores the traffic they generate that compromises the quality of life of the older, increasingly attractive neighborhoods on the edge of downtown. 

In one of its pieces, the paper asked the question that residents have been asking with each new skyscraper: Why do people who almost always run on controlled growth platforms readily approve exactly the opposite when they take office? Developers always say how their projects enhance their neighborhoods by bringing in new business and taxpayers. They never mention the negatives, which include the possibility that access to their buildings could be underwater in a few years, to say nothing of the traffic messes they create.

The latter gridlock is already bad, and will only get worse when (and if) all that new construction is occupied. There are complaints all over Broward County, but the worst problem seems to be getting people from downtown to the beach. The most used route is the biggest problem. Most traffic between the beach, downtown, and western Broward is on Broward Boulevard, which links to Las Olas Boulevard and then on to the heart of beach activity. The problem is that link. 

Broward and Las Olas are both four lanes, but Broward ends at Victoria Park. The only way to Las Olas is three blocks of narrow, two-lane residential streets through the old neighborhood called Colee Hammock. The city over the years has made 15th Avenue the primary connection, and it simply can't handle the increasing volume of traffic. During busy hours, vehicles line up for blocks on Broward and Las Olas as drivers wait to make the turn onto 15th. As a result, impatient drivers cut through other streets, some of which are notable for their abundant heritage oaks and well-preserved older homes, and are favored by people walking dogs and pushing baby carriages.

The only solution advanced recently is the exotic Elon Musk tunnel from the Brightline Station on Broward all the way to the beach. But because its two lanes will only accommodate special vehicles and not ordinary traffic, it will not come close to solving the problem. Commuters still need their cars at either end of the tunnel. The only people who would use it are tourists who don't need cars, and they aren't the cause of gridlock. 

The impractical tunnel idea, however, leads to a more practical one. Why not a real tunnel, such as the Henry Kinney Tunnel under the New River? It need not be an enormously expensive tunnel all the way from the Brightline location to the beach. It could be just long enough to connect Broward Blvd. to Las Olas, following the present traffic jam corridor from 15th and Broward over to Las Olas and then a few blocks toward the beach, coming up where the Las Olas Isles begin. It would be a challenge to build it along Broward, but no more so than it was to build the entrances to the New River Tunnel on U.S. 1 years ago. The access on Las Olas would be easier as there is a median which provides plenty of room.

Now that would solve the problem, at least as it exists today. In the long run, if all the tall new buildings under construction are ever filled with office workers and residents, it is hard to imagine any solution to the avalanche of traffic that will follow. Perhaps city planners and commissioners will give that prospect some thought the next time they are asked to approve buildings that are simply too big for this city.

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