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With Venetian Causeway Closed, Miami Beach Braces for Art Basel Traffic Madness

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Every year during Art Basel, traffic between Miami Beach and the mainland becomes a vivid nightmare straight out of Hieronymus Bosch's imagination. And Basel's 2015 installment will bring the worst traffic ever, because the Venetian Causeway — a preferred route of many to the Beach — remains closed for repairs and ongoing efforts to raise street levels and install water pumps tears up SoBe roads.

How will the Beach handle that traffic apocalypse? Water taxis, "intelligent" traffic monitors, and a new, free bus route are among the solutions the city hopes will ease congestion. 

For Basel's fifteenth edition, Miami Beach will offer a free trolley service linking the Basel hub at the Miami Beach Convention Center to satellite fairs elsewhere on the Beach and across the bay in midtown. Four trolleys will travel an east-west route connecting Miami Beach to midtown, and two will loop along a north-south route between North Beach and South Beach. Shuttles will also connect to existing free trolley service in North Beach and the Alton/West neighborhoods.

That's not the only free trolley that will service the Beach-to-Miami route. Miami-Dade Transit will pilot a "Miami-Dade Art Express" bus route, originating from a stop next to the Design District’s new parking garage on NE 38th Street near NE First Ave and traveling across the Julia Tuttle Causeway. Buses will depart every 20 minutes, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., December 1 through 6. Transit spokeswoman Karla Damian says the route will be a trial run to gauge interest.

“Our ultimate goal is to increase ridership,” Damian says. “This provides an opportunity to create awareness of the benefits and convenience of using public transportation.”

Additionally, FDOT has approved the use of the shoulder on the Tuttle for use by transit and emergency vehicles — so even when the bridges are choked with art travelers, the buses and trolleys will have quick routes over the bay.
Traffic will continually be monitored by “intelligence systems,” says City of Miami Beach spokeswoman Nannette Rodriguez, and “traffic signal timings will be modified as needed to improve mobility.” The city is also working on a water taxi pilot project to get visitors from downtown to the Beach, though details on that have not yet been released.

Meanwhile, the Venetian Causeway, which is by far the safest biking and walking route between South Beach and the mainland, remains closed for nine months of repairs on its westernmost drawbridge.

Earlier this year, the project’s contractor, GLF Construction, said it could get the Venetian finished in time for Basel — for an extra $4.7 million. Though Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine pushed for the fast track, county officials balked at the price tag.

According to Francis Calderon, a spokesman for Miami-Dade Public Works, the project is on schedule to be completed by late February.

“At this time, there are no unforeseen issues that should impact the projected completion date,” Calderon says.

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