Miami, FL

Advocates warn a highway extension to alleviate traffic in Kendall could pose a threat to the Everglades

Adriana Jimenez

(MIAMI) A major highway may soon extend across the Everglades National Park after the Florida Cabinet, and Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted a rule protecting the national park. 

Earlier this month, legislators rejected a recommended judge order that said a proposed highway extension of the 836/Dolphin Expressway violated Miami-Dade County's development rules to protect water supply, agriculture lands, and wetlands. The highway extension would add about 14 miles to State Road 836 in a project that aims to ease traffic jams in western suburbs. While the decision doesn't technically mean the project is approved, lifting the restriction clears the way for the county to seek further environmental permits from state agencies. 

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General views of the Everglades National ParkGetty Images

But, environmental groups warn the massive transportation project would do more harm than good. "The proposed tollway violates the county's own adopted policies against building new highways outside of its urban boundary and through the Everglades and farms," says Attorney Richard Grosso with the non-profit Tropical Audubon Society, which vowed to appeal the decision. Advocates argue the construction poses a threat to the county's water supply, and drivers would save just a few minutes on their daily commutes from West Kendall to the downtown area. Opponents also say the proposed road would displace between 300 and 400 acres of farmland in the area,  shrinking agricultural land supply.

The highway extension was proposed in 2018 and championed by Miami Republican Congressman Carlos Gimenez, when he was Miami-Dade mayor. Assistant County Attorney Dennis Kerbel said the road wouldn't impact Everglades restoration efforts during an interview with FOX 13 "It's not in the Everglades. This is miles away from Everglades National Park. It does run through wetlands that have been identified as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan."

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An alligator swims through the shallow water of the Everglades National ParkGetty Images

Meanwhile, DeSantis stressed that it was "premature" to assume that the project will be approved as the South Florida Water Management District will make a final decision after a permitting process takes place. 

Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried was the only Cabinet member who voted to uphold the judge's decision to protect the Everglades. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patron and Attorney General Ashley Moody voted with the governor.

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