Tunnel Vision - On Steroids

by Bernard McCormick Monday, May 03, 2021 No Comment(s)

Las Olas is rarely as uncrowded as this illustration by Colin Breslin would suggest. A current proposal would widen the street by eliminating the landscaped median. The city has made Las Olas friendlier for pedestrians, but closing lanes in the business district has increased cut through traffic on nearby residential streets. This is increasing as new downtown residential buildings come on line.

The most outlandish proposal was to rebuild the Atlantic Ocean near Weston. The second was to build a tunnel from Broward Boulevard to the beach. We deemed both ideas absurd solutions to the problem we were addressing, which was the mounting congestion on and near Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale's oldest and most heavily traveled path from the mainland to the beach. These preposterous proposals were intended as a preface to a complaint about the ridiculous overbuilding in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The increasingly heavy traffic already created a traffic mess that will only get worse when (and if) all the too tall buildings under construction are completed and filled with new residents. Why does the city approve developments that welcome new residents while damaging the quality of life of those already here? The worst bottleneck is Las Olas, which the city proposed narrowing, a move that would only make living in the old neighborhoods around Las Olas increasingly unpleasant.

We shouldn't have deemed our ideas absurd so fast. On the same Sunday morning we began to write these thoughts, The Sun Sentinel carried a front page story titled: "Tesla tunnel to the beach may not be a pipe dream."

The story appeared incredible until we saw quotes that showed influential people were taking the idea seriously. The most catchy name was Elon Musk, who was known to do impossible things. The tunnel would be built by Tesla's Boring Company, which already built a similar tunnel on the West Coast. The quoted cost of the 2.6 mile tunnel was surprising low, compared to the proposed cost of bridges to eliminate the drawbridge crossing where the FEC Railway tracks meet the busy New River.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis was quoted as intrigued by the idea, as were other community leaders, including Mary Fertig, a respected neighborhood activist who lives off Las Olas in the Idylwood development. The catch? This tunnel is not the Henry Kinney Tunnel that carries cars under the New River on Federal Highway.

It would not be for cars. It would be two lanes, only 12-feet wide, which would convey a transit car capable of great speeds. It would begin at the new Brightline rail station on Broward Boulevard and end at the beach with stops along the route where passengers could exit and use elevators to reach blue sky.

Useful? Of course, but how useful would depend on how many commuters between the beach and downtown require their cars during work hours. Tourists obviously don't, but many of those now jamming the rush hour roads funneling into to Las Olas are workers, coming and going in all directions from Downtown. They need cars just to complete their daily commute, not to mention work-related trips.

Since the idea of a tunnel is considered feasible by informed parties, why not recognize the Age of Biden and think bigger? Much bigger. How about a combination of the futuristic rail tunnel and a conventional tunnel carrying cars and other standard vehicles? It would be a big job indeed, but it would be a solution to a traffic problem that until recently appeared unsolvable.


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