Key Biscayne turned into a traffic nightmare for trapped drivers. How was it allowed? | Opinion

Families camp out as hundreds of cars leaving Key Biscayne were stuck on the Rickenbacker Causeway for hours.

You don’t have to be a traffic expert to understand what happens when you shut down a bridge connecting an island to two major thoroughfares in South Florida.

Chaos.

And that’s what happened Sunday evening when hundreds of drivers were stranded on Key Biscayne for hours on end after the closure of the Rickenbacker Causeway’s flyover bridge, which connects westbound traffic to South Dixie Highway and Interstate 95 north in Miami.

The closure happened for a good reason: to restore aging concrete on the road. But it also happened at the tail end of South Florida’s busiest tourist season, and on a gorgeous beach day.

The bridge was supposed to remain shut for two months, but, on Monday morning, the Florida Department of Transportation, which local officials have blamed for causing the mayhem, reopened one of the lanes that connects to Interstate 95. The southbound exit ramp onto U.S. 1 will reopen Wednesday, the Herald reported.

Perhaps that was a recognition, after the fact, that the planning for the closures wasn’t as thoroughly studied as FDOT reportedly had told the mayor of Key Biscayne before Sunday. There’s little known about what went into the decision to close the flyover bridge, and more will likely surface as the Herald and other media outlets continue to investigate.

For now, Miami residents are left with lots of outrage and questions. For example, why didn’t traffic officials wait to close the bridge in June, when kids are out of school and there are fewer tourists in town, as some residents are asking authorities via an online petition?

“Commute times from Key Biscayne to the mainland have increased to a staggering 80-90 minutes, making it nearly impossible to get children to their school on time each morning,” the petition reads.

Key Biscayne Mayor Joe Rasco wrote in a statement posted on Instagram that FDOT had assured him the state agency had the closures “under control.” Clearly, that wasn’t the case.

Videos posted on social media showed lines of cars at a standstill. Some families even decided to camp out on the sidewalk. A woman posted on Instagram she was stuck in traffic for 9 1/2 hours and that some cars ran out of battery and gas. Not knowing what was actually going on, some people thought the bridge had collapsed or caught on fire. Grocery stores were packed with people stocking up on food in case they had to spend the night in their cars.

Miamians are used to bad traffic, long commutes, what appears to be perpetual road work and congestion on I-95 and U.S. 1 at all hours of the day. But being stranded for almost half a day on the road to an island is special kind of traffic hell, even for Miami. It didn’t help that it happened on a Sunday, when families expected a break from the crazy pace of South Florida life.

It’s hard to remain patient when it feels traffic officials are making decisions without thinking of the people who will pay with their time and blood pressure levels. That’s especially true in a place like South Florida where there are few transportation options besides driving.

Our communities were not developed with mass transit in mind and, as the region has grown, residents can see the consequences of that virtually every time they get behind the wheel. Miami-Dade County has made significant steps to alleviate that issue with the SMART plan to build six transit corridors but it will be years before that is fully built out.

For now, South Florida remains a car culture and road repairs are inconvenient but critical. It’s the price we pay for making sure our burdened driving infrastructure doesn’t fall apart.

There’s a lesson in this mess, about planning and traffic and listening to locals. Was there a less inconvenient way to make required repairs on the Rickenbacker Causeway? Miami needs answers.

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