If you live or work in Hialeah, three simple words can trigger a Pavlovian response of anxiety, anger and sadness: Red Road construction. A massive project on the street, otherwise known as Fourth Ave., has been the bane of every city resident's existence for going on two years now.
And sadly, it isn't going anywhere any time soon. In fact, as soon as the current traffic-snarling phase wraps later this year, a whole new project is set to turn the main artery of Hialeah into a mass of honking, immobile cars.
"I know in the long run we're going to have nicer roads, but my 5-minute drive to work turned into a 15-minute drive because of this nonstop construction," Hialeah resident Hilda Gonzalez tells Riptide.
Gonzalez, an employee at Ross on Palm Springs Mile, one of the largest shopping plazas affected by the project, said many customers come in complaining about the work.
"It's always a new lane that gets closed and then you're stuck driving in a one lane with a slow, old Cuban driver that has no idea where he's going," Gonzalez says. "One day the detour goes a certain way and then they change it and you have to find a new shortcut; all just to get from a 4-block area."
The fact is, Red Road is set to receive a makeover well into 2016 or 2017, depending on how the project proceeds. The good news, state highway officials say, is that when it's over, Hialeah might have one of the most well-paved and pedestrian-friendly roads in the state.
"Our project isn't just about stretching the road for to help with traffic congestion," said Caridad Mesa, an FDOT public information specialist for the project. "It's also about improving the quality of the street for drivers, residents, and pedestrians."
The first two segments of the project, which started in September and October of 2012 respectively, span from West 23 Street through West 54 Street. For any non-Hialeans, that leaves the city's beloved West 103 Street (or 49 Street) right in the middle of the action.
The goal of the $37.5 million project is road widening, a new drainage system for the city, improved lighting and signals, pedestrian signals, bridge widening, medians, rebuilding pavement marking, and improved driveway leveling.
Besides adding lanes to the road, FDOT decided to make these changes to Red Road based on traffic studies that show possible safety issues on state roads. That is why they state is adding new signage, particularly pedestrian signals, to make it safer for people to cross the street. The new medians will also help prevent drivers from making illegal turns, which in the past has caused accidents.
As a main road in Hialeah, the project has not come without its share of angry business owners and residents. The FDOT has sent nearby residents explanations about what the project is doing and have done door-to-door visits to help mitigate resident outcry.
According to Mesa, some local businesses have also been asked to sign license agreements allowing for FDOT to harmonize their driveways. That means the state comes in and levels their driveway entrances to match the street.
But Ana Villanueva, who lives nearby and works at a bakery in the affected area, says that she has seen business fall since the construction started.
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"The loyal customers will always keep coming, but it's not fair that we have to add this extra challenge to them," Villanueva says. "I agree that we need better signals for people walking, but the sooner they get off our street, the sooner we'll be able to go back to normal."
The first two segments of the project will be done in early 2015, if weather permits. The next phase in the project, which will span in two segments from West 53 Street to West 84 Street, will then begin later this year in October or November and span into the next couple of years.
Lucky for residents, the next phase shouldn't be as rough on traffic because the work is in a more residential area. But regardless, don't expect the state to pack up those "Road Work Ahead" signs anytime soon.