$100 million allocated for elevating Tamiami Trail

TALLAHASSEE — The State of Florida and the U.S. Department of Transportation have budgeted $100 million for Phase II of the project to raise the Tamiami Trail.

The Tamiami Trail — built to connect Tampa to Miami — has acted as a dam across the southern Everglades for decades.

The coast-to-coast highway was originally constructed between 1915 and 1928 by developer Barron Collier. In the early days, the road was regularly closed for flooding during the wet season. Over the years, the roadway has been upgraded to handle more traffic and heavier vehicles. To protect the roadway and the motoring public, the state holds back water north of the trail. The unintended consequence is that the road acts as a man-made dam, holding back the sheet flow into Everglades National Park. As a result, the area south of the trail has suffered from periodic localized droughts, when some areas north of the trail were flooded.

Scientists and water managers proposed solutions using bridges to raise the roadway and allow water to pass underneath. But as often happens with Everglades projects, funding issues caused delays.

In 2005, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed 11 miles of raised bridging west of Miami. The National Park Service estimated 12 miles of bridging would be needed.

One mile of bridging was completed in 2013.

In 2016, work began on another 2.6 miles of bridging, about four and half miles west of the 1-mile bridge. That project is expected to be completed this year.

Phase II of the Tamiami Trail project will include about 6.5 miles of additional bridging.

On June 3, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that “full funding” has been secured to complete the project to elevate the Tamiami Trail. The U.S. Department of Transportation has matched the state of Florida’s $40 million for the Tamiami Trail by awarding an additional $60 million for the completion of the Tamiami Trail Next Steps Phase II project.

“Expediting the Tamiami Trail project is a key component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Elevating the trail will allow for an additional 75 to 80 billion gallons of water a day to flow south into the Everglades and Florida Bay,” said Gov. DeSantis. “I thank President Trump and his administration, including Secretary Elaine Chao, for yet again proving their dedication to the people of Florida as we work to restore our water quality and protect our environment.”

“I have continuously worked to ensure that Everglades Restoration remains a top priority in Congress. The Tamiami Trail project is just one component of that restoration plan, and once completed will provide increased water flows south of the trail,” said Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart. “As then chairman of the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, I included $300 million for the National Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects (NSFLTP) program in the fiscal year 2018 bill. I recognized the critical need for timely completion of the Tamiami Trail Project and ensured this funding became law. With this $60 million federal grant, the project can complete its second phase, leading to an additional 6.5 miles of elevated bridging. I thank and commend Secretary Elaine Chao for her unceasing commitment to Florida, and for all she has done for the Tamiami Trail project. I would also like to commend Superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks, Pedro Ramos for his dedication to the Everglades and to our community. I look forward to this project’s completion and remain a steadfast advocate for the preservation and continued restoration of the Everglades.”

“Today’s good news is a testament to the leadership of Gov. DeSantis and Florida’s Congressional delegation. The governor continues to lead the charge with his commitment to expediting Everglades restoration, and completing the Tamiami Trail Project is an important step forward for America’s Everglades,” said SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett. “The Tamiami Trail Project helps restore the natural flow of water to Shark River Slough. Thanks to Gov. DeSantis’ wise investment and support from the U.S. Department of Transportation, we’re providing the Everglades marshes a chance to recover after being cut off from water flow when the original Tamiami Trail was built nearly 100 years ago.”

“This announcement today is great news for Everglades Restoration and water quality in Florida,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “With the governor’s leadership and federal partnership, we will be able to complete critical water projects like the Tamiami Trail Bridge Project, and continue expediting our efforts to do more for Florida’s environment now.”

“The water crisis facing the Everglades is really two-fold,” explained Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg.

“At the northern end of the Everglades, excess water flowing into Lake Okeechobee has forced massive discharges of algae-causing water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. Meanwhile, in the southern Everglades, the lack of fresh water impacts wildlife and destroys critical habitat. In Florida Bay, it is ruining the delicate saltwater balance, killing seagrass habitat needed to support world-class recreational fishing in the Florida Keys.”

The 6.5-mile Tamiami Trail Modification Next Step Phase II project, will open up the bottleneck, allowing the maximum amount of clean water into Everglades National Park, said Mr. Eikenberg.

Whether $100 million will be enough to “fully fund” the project remains to be seen. In 2016, the estimated cost of 2.6 miles of road bridging was $69.5 million.

Other issues may also limit how much water can flow south. Six months of the year, the Department of the Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service limits flow under parts of the Tamiami Trail to protect the nesting grounds of the endangered Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow. Also, under the terms of the 1992 federal consent decree, water released into Everglades National Park must first be cleaned to less than 10 parts per billion of phosphorus.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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