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An Inconvenient Trail PDF Print E-mail
Written by Frank Rollason -- BT Contributor   
June 2013

A road connecting Miami to Tampa was a no-brainer -- back when the impact on the environment wasn’t a consideration

BPix_FrankRollason_6-13ack in 1915, a road project was undertaken that would change the face of South Florida forever: the Tamiami Trail, slicing through the Everglades and connecting Tampa to Miami. (Hence the name, Ta-Miami, get it?)

Thirteen years later, the movement of autos between the two cities was easier and more practical, but the movement of water across the “river of grass” through the Shark River Slough hit a significant bump in the road -- a bump that has taken some 85 years to correct. Meet the first phase of the Everglades Skyway.

Funny how when we screw with Mother Nature, she comes back to bite us on our well-deserving ass every time. Whether it be the dumping of factory chemicals in our nation’s waterways or the ever increasing carbon dioxide emissions from our various industrial plants or the spilling of oil into our bays and estuaries, we are finally beginning to realize Mother Earth has a finite capacity to counter and absorb our selfish abuse of her.

As the worldwide population explodes, the need for food, shelter, goods, and services places stress on the big blue marble, and the marble is getting tired.

But for now, let’s get back to the topic at hand: the fixing of the great dam we all refer to as the Tamiami Trail. I guess the first question to be asked is, why is it necessary to restore the flow of water?

The Trail (we who grew up here in Myamuh have always referred to it as “the Trail”) has long been recognized as one of the primary barriers to the flow of water through the Everglades ecosystem. The result has been a strain on the entire food chain that eventually impacts the food we gather from our bays and oceans.

The Glades on the south side of the Trail suffer unnatural droughts and flooding that adversely impact the ecosystem, affecting all creatures great and small; creatures such as the federally endangered wood stork, the Everglade snail kite (that’s a bird, for you city dwellers), the Cape Sable seaside sparrow. Throw in the roseate spoonbill, which is on the state’s list of endangered species.

Perhaps you say species come and go and maybe we shouldn’t be trying to fix something that has worked fine for the past 85 years. Well, let’s discuss an issue that may hit closer to home -- and closer to your pocketbook, if you have a real estate investment in South Florida. Have you heard of sea-level rise and the subsequent impact of saltwater intrusion?

It’s Hydraulics 101. As the oceans rise owing to climate change, salt water works its way into the surrounding land and ultimately has an impact on our fresh-water supply. Already in Belle Meade, our fresh-water irrigation wells -- which have been in service since the homes were built in the 1930s -- are becoming contaminated with salt water or brackish water.

(If your lawn is not doing too well, you might try tasting the water that comes out of your sprinkler system. You may find that you now have a saltwater well. Not too healthy for your grass and shrubs!)

So if we are able to restore the sheeting of fresh water into the southern end of the Everglades, the hydraulic pressure created by this water can help push back the intrusion of salt water from the ocean. Just a thought.

The overall solution seems pretty simple: Just tear up the Trail and let the water flow once again. Let’s face it. Man built the road; man can demolish the road, no? Well…

There are other impacts to consider. How will we get to Tampa to visit Busch Gardens, one may ask? Well, we could use Alligator Alley -- oops, could that be another problem slicing through the Glades?

And what about the Native American reservations along the Trail, and Coopertown and Frog City, venerable institutions in their own right? And what about having a place to launch an airboat? Everyone can’t go to Holiday Park.

So you can see a simple solution is not so simple. Obviously, the existing roadway built at ground level has to go, but it needs to be replaced with something else, and the choices are rather scant. Either we tunnel under the Everglades or we elevate a portion of the Trail to allow the water to flow freely once again.

(Don’t laugh about a tunnel. If it were financially feasible, there would be a cadre of lobbyists lining up to push this option as the “logical choice” to restore the Glades to their pristine grandeur, before the white man dared to scar its surface with crushed rock and asphalt.)

In 1928, when the Tamiami Trail opened to traffic, the cost for design and construction of the roadway was a mere $8 million -- and more than two-and-a-half million sticks of dynamite. To elevate approximately 5.5 miles of the highway today will cost an estimated $330 million of taxpayer money. My, my, talk about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure.

At this point, one mile of the proposed 5.5-mile skyway has been built and is carrying traffic. I drove out there a couple of weeks ago to see it. It is fairly quick and easy to get to. It’s just a mile and a smidgen west of Krome Avenue, where the Miccosukee gambling establishment is located, right on U.S. 41.

At present, no water is flowing under the bridge, but work is ongoing to demolish the old section, thus allowing water once again to spill into the Shark River Slough.

Currently there is a group called the Everglades Skyway Coalition doing its best to shepherd the next 2.6-mile portion of the project into becoming a reality.

Naturally it all hinges on funding and, although it is looking good that the project will continue, it would be helpful if you would contact Sen. Bill Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio, as well as your Congressional representative, and encourage them all to see that funding for the balance of this project is appropriated and locked in for the next phase.

After all, I don’t want my grandson to grow up thinking swimming pools are a natural habitat for alligators.

 

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