According to an announcement from the City, extending the double-lane closures now will preclude another double-lane closure later in September and again in October. “We believe that now that the traveling public has adjusted their schedules around this construction, it is better to finish the work rather than reopen and have to go through additional adjustment periods in the future,” according to the release.
After September 21, there will still be single-lane closures and nighttime two-lane closures from 10 pm to 6 am throughout the remainder of the project, but the extended two-lane closures on the westbound side will be complete. The extensive bridge repair work is expected to take two years with lane closures expected for nine months.
Earlier this week, a standing room only crowd of about 150 people turned out for a South of Fifth Neighborhood Association (SOFNA) meeting to hear construction updates and ask questions. South of Fifth resident Stephen Cohen, an administrator of the Miami Beach Hub Facebook group, posted a video of Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates speaking to the crowd about traffic control. When he was finished, he committed to trying a suggestion for more officers on 4th Street to help residents get home in the evening rush hour.
“Our fundamental problem is we have seven lanes going down to one lane in the most heavily travelled thoroughfare in the City,” Oates told the group. “Curiously enough, we have a whole lot of people who can’t seem to realize when they’re on the Beach that there are other ways to get off the Beach.” The Julia Tuttle, he said, is often “flowing freely and people are waiting 45 minutes to get out on the MacArthur. It’s baffling to me, but that’s what’s happening. Part of that is we’re a tourist city and we have a lot of visitors.”
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“In terms of staffing it took us a while to try to figure out how to manage the traffic pattern,” Oates said. “And by way of notice, when the traffic pattern changes – when they go from two lanes closed to one lane closed or when they move a lane – the traffic pattern will change and we’ll have to adjust, but what we’ve settled on in terms of staffing is we bring in four police officers around 7 in the morning and at 3 in the afternoon we bring in 15 more, so we have 18 or 19 cops out here every single rush hour.”
“The first full weekend, we tried to do it with five or six cops and that was a disaster so now on the weekends we have 13 cops,” Oates added. “This past Saturday we learned that on a busy Saturday night – Saturday was really busy – when the cops went home at 8 o’clock it was a disaster. So, this coming Saturday we’re going to have more cops out later at night on Saturday. We’re adapting to the conditions as we see them.”
Oates noted he’s gotten complaints that “the cops are standing around.” That, however, is his goal, he said. “My goal is to have every cop standing around. My goal is to have every single light controlling the behavior of drivers so that the cops can stand around.” The problems happen when drivers “are not obeying the rules and where the fight is to prevent them from blocking the box because then we have absolute gridlock.”
The strategy, he said, involves “pushes” of cars. Every half hour officers push additional cars north on Alton and west on 5th to alleviate the pressure in those two areas.
In addition to taking the Julia Tuttle and not blocking the box, drivers can help the situation in other ways too. When the Chief noted the number of cars that get through a light cycle, he used the phrase “depending upon driver behavior and readiness of drivers to go” – yes, this reporter is guilty of checking email at traffic lights but when drivers are not ready, they reduce the number of cars that move through the light.
And, then there’s what he called “distractions on the bridge.”
“When people finally get on the bridge, guess what they do? … The old Long Island, New York term was rubbernecking, right?” Oates said. “So, they wait and wait and wait and finally get on the bridge and what do they do? Driver behavior’s a real challenge for us.”
“On a typical light cycle northbound we can get five to ten cars through. If we hold southbound Alton we can get 10-15 cars through on a typical light cycle,” he said. “Not ideal but that’s what we work with unless we’re doing one of our pushes where we freeze the light green for five minutes or six minutes and pull everybody through and westbound 5th waits and southbound Alton waits.”
That said, he told residents, “Our obligation is to get traffic moving from all three directions. If we block up any one direction too much, it’s literally not safe for the City. It’s not safe to get emergency vehicles through.”
“So that is our strategy and each time the traffic pattern changes over the next nine months of this project, we’ll be making adjustments and we’ll have to learn and we’ll need some patience as we adjust to the traffic pattern changes.”
He also addressed the cost issue, saying he’s paying an additional $50,000 a week in overtime for the traffic control while the City is being reimbursed $37,000 weekly by FDOT. “That’s a conversation between the City and FDOT what we do about that,” he added. Mayor Dan Gelber has said FDOT, at his request is funding 11 additional officers for the task.
“I have a staffing challenge,” Oates said. “Mustering 18 cops a day, day after day after day after day is a challenge. I could probably force more cops to work but there’s a point as a manager – we have other responsibilities in the City – there’s a point as a manager where to stress the workforce any more can be counterproductive and even dangerous.”
While he’s had to reject some suggestions for ways to improve the situation, one has been adopted that involved “setting cones on southbound Alton further out,” he said. “That seems to be working and that’s an improvement that we adapted in the last two days.”
“We were very worried about school dismissals,” he said, “[but] that has worked out really, really well. Nearly everyone is picking up their children on foot which is wonderful that we have a neighborhood school.”
In a Q&A with residents streamed live on Facebook by Rafael Velasquez, Oates advised residents that Washington Avenue is flowing well in both directions and he urged them to use Washington to go north to the Julia Tuttle Causeway.
To a question about bad behavior including the honking of horns and a request to ticket drivers, he responded, “Our priority is to move cars not write tickets. To write a ticket, that alone will create further traffic delays which will not make anyone happy so we ask for your tolerance.” In some cases, horn honking does prevent accidents, he said. While he called it “rude” he said, “It is not an enforcement priority for those reasons.”
At the suggestion of residents, he said he was willing to try “an extra push or two an hour per neighborhood” and placing a police officer on 4th Street to help residents trying to get home rather than to the Causeway or elsewhere in the City.
The balance, however, is important he said. Because there are so many officers out there, “we’ve been able to get emergency vehicles through, but that is always a worry,” he said. “When it is this congested, if you have a heart attack or something going on, it is a fight for an ambulance or a fire truck to get through. We’re managing that the best we can and that is a consideration why, for instance, if my priority is to empty out South of Fifth and everything to the north is blocked up that could become a problem for the residents and visitors to the north in terms of getting emergency vehicles through.”
“There is no magic bullet,” he said. “We’re in the thick of this until September 9th. Things will, I think, significantly improve when the second lane opens” which, as we now know won’t be until September 21.
Oates followed up with residents after the meeting saying in an email that after two successful evening rush hour tests, he is adjusting the traffic strategy as follows:
“Between 3 pm and 7:45 pm, Monday through Friday, when we have 20 extra cops assigned to facilitate traffic flow (including 2 more added two days ago and specifically assigned to 4th Street), the Police Department is prepared to pull Murano/Icon residents through 4th Street AGAINST ONCOMING TRAFFIC AND IN THE SOUTH/COUNTER-FLOW LANE. This is being done to prevent these residents from waiting in the traffic jam meant for the outbound MacArthur Causeway. For this to work, it requires the full cooperation of all of our SOFNA motorists.
“The most important instruction is that each motorist seeking to take advantage of this opportunity must do EXACTLY what the officer on scene on 4th Street instructs him/her to do. Once the motorist traveling west on 4th Street gets to Michigan Ave (and NOT before), the motorist must speak with the police officer on scene and identify himself/herself as a driver who is headed either 1) toward the Icon/Murano Grande OR headed west on 4th Street and then turning south on Alton Road. The police officer on 4th Street, whose job is specifically to contact each motorist and determine their intentions, will then arrange to hold oncoming eastbound traffic so that the Icon/Murano/SOFNA resident can proceed westbound and to their homes without waiting in the MacArthur-bound traffic.
“This plan requires the full cooperation and patience of everyone involved. We tested it during the past two rush hours and were able to successfully move 25 or so cars each afternoon/evening without incident. We in the MBPD are hoping that this extra effort will provide some additional relief to our friends in the SOFNA community."
On Thursday, City Manager Jimmy Morales took a boat tour of the work. In a short Facebook video, he said, “I know it’s been a horrible inconvenience and we’ve got a few more weeks to go of it but if you look underneath of it this close, you see exposed rebar. You see cracks. You recognize we’ve got dangers under this bridge that have to be addressed, so it’s a good thing what FDOT’s doing. We’re doing everything we can to make it as ‘not as inconvenient’ as possible, but at the end of the day this is our public safety. As we know in government, safety is number so thank you for grinning and bearing it but these are the reasons why we’re doing it.”
He also shared photos on Twitter of the extensive repairs necessary (below).
Update August 31, 2018
The City has made live traffic cam video available from four locations around the MacArthur Causeway construction (the intersections of Washington and 5th and Alton and 5th, along with a view of 700 Alton and the MacArthur Bridge) . Click here to view.
FDOT has created a new FAQ regarding the MacArthur Causeway construction. Find it here.
Top photo courtesy Mirielle Enlow
Bottom photos courtesy City of Miami Beach