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Value Engineering. What does the term mean to you?

Think about it. Let’s decompose the term before seeking out a formal definition. To us, the concept of value engineering when applied to transportation projects, includes the pursuit of cost-effective methods to achieve a desired end result. It includes a suite of tools that would enable project managers to work with engineers and architects to lower the overall cost of the project without sacrificing a particular end goal. In more obscure words, the FDOT defines value engineering as:

“…the systematic application of function-oriented techniques by a multi-disciplined team to analyze and improve the value of a product, facility, system, or service.”

So, if we were to tell you that FDOT was actively seeking to value engineer the structure that will soon replace I-395, how would you feel? Let’s take a look back at the designs presented last year before we dive into our argument on why we shouldn’t cut corners on such a critical piece of infrastructure.

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For the unacquainted, over the past several years FDOT initiated the process to replace the 1.5 mile structure that links SR 836 east of I-95 to the MacArthur Causeway. As the main artery between MIA, the Port of Miami, and South Beach, millions of visitors traverse this scenic stretch annually on the way to a cruise or the beaches. The byproduct of 1960’s urban renewal, I-395 ripped apart neighborhoods and displaced thousands from historic Overtown, today the structure continues to thwart efforts to unite our major public institutions including: The Arsht Center, Art and Science Museums (both currently under construction), and the AA Arena. As such, FDOT’s plans for I-395 will play a critical role in Miami’s ability to reshape the urban core and reunite Downtown, Parkwest, Omni, and Overtown districts.

Side note: Imagine what could become of the corner of N. Miami Avenue and 14th Street if the neighborhood were united with Downtown to the South or the Arsht Center to the east? The Citizens Bank Building (above), built during Miami’s boom years in 1925 could serve as a catalyst for growth in a neighborhood that has largely remained abandoned since urban renewal gutted Overtown. 

In this context, the concept of value engineering contradicts the livable, “sense of place” we’re working to achieve in Downtown. As it currently stands, I-395 and all the other roadways that access our barrier islands are utilitarian structures, serving little purpose other than to move vehicles from one land mass to another.

The challenge with I-395 is that it must satisfy numerous conflicting needs. I-395 isn’t just a bridge (or tunnel, or boulevard). It should serve as an icon; a figurative representation of Miami’s status as the Gateway to the Americas. A new I-395 will, should once and for all, eliminate the physical barrier that has long divided Downtown Miami from the Omni and Performing Arts Districts, encouraging more active uses below while maintaining the flow of traffic above. Not an easy feat. While the DDA and City of Miami recognize the economic value in designing an iconic structure at this site, our experience tells us that FDOT is more likely to think in the terms of dollars and LOS rather than the contextual and neighborhood needs. Simply put, this isn’t an ordinary site where a no-frills structure will suffice.

Cities all across the nation are eliminating derelict highways that for the past 40-50 years have scarred, divided, and polluted neighborhoods. Boston’s big dig for example submerged a 2-mile stretch of I-93 that had cut off the North End and Waterfront neighborhoods from downtown and the rest of the city. The Rose Kennedy Greenway, a 1.5 mile public park now stretches its length. Where the highway tunnel ends, an iconic structure, the Leonard P. Zakim Memorial Bridge takes over, leading traffic over the Charles River to points north. Adjacent to the TD Garden (home of the Celtics & Bruins) the Zakim Bridge is now synonymous with the Boston Skyline. Other notable examples include:

  • San Francisco’s Embarcardero Freeway
  • Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct
  • Hartford’s I-84 Viaduct

While no decision has been made on what final shape I-395’s replacement structure will take, our sources inform us that FDOT is beginning to explore more “cost effective” alternatives. We’ll keep eye on this project as it unfolds and will reach out to the City of Miami, DDA, and FDOT to ensure that Miami receives a replacement structure at this site worthy of its location in the heart of our burgeoning urban core. Moreover, we’ll remind FDOT that their third proposed objective for this project (3. Creating a visually appealing bridge) includes considering the aesthetics of the structure from all perspectives, especially the pedestrians and cyclists we’re trying to lure back into downtown streets.

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The latest phase of the multimillion dollar attempts to mitigate congestion along I-95 goes into effect this week in the form of a ramp metering system.  Needless to say, I am curious to see the result: Will drivers obey the lights, knowing full well that the local FHP is understaffed and underfunded?  Will demand outpace supply and will cars back up into local roadways and intersections?  Will we experience a decrease in VMT (vehicle miles traveled) and see a worthy reduction in congestion?  Only time will tell…

Ramp metering is a form of restricting access to roadway.  Signals located at the entrances to freeways dictate when cars can proceed.  The timing for these signals, in a well designed ramp metering system, is based wholly on the existing congestion of the roadway.  Ramp Metering seeks to mitigate the “turbulence” caused by vehicles entering highways – a significant cause of congestion as motorists accelerate and merge with existing traffic.  Ramp meters regulate this access, creating a steady flow of vehicles rather than the platoons caused by signals leading into the current highway entrances – helping to avoid the dangerous shockwave phenomenon we discussed nearly a year ago.

While I generally speak favorably of ramp metering – I have a few concerns I feel the DOT should address.  Foremost, it seems a bit counterintuitive to me to implement a congestion pricing (HOT Lane) program simultaneously with a ramp metering system that does not allow motorists to buy themselves out of the on-ramp wait time to begin with.  The way I see it, if a motorist is willing to pay $X to drive in the HOT lanes to get from A to B faster, why would he want to wait to access the highway to begin with?  For the whole scheme to work seamlessly, a second access lane should be provided to allow motorists to buy instant access to the highway.  Call it Ramp Pricing.

Image Source: The Miami Herald
Image Source: The Miami Herald

Secondly, the current ramp meter placement, similar to the HOT lanes, punishes drivers in Miami-Dade (see above) while giving Broward drivers (suburban drivers who presumably have higher VMT) unfettered access to the whole system.  At final build out, it seems theoretical that a driver from western Broward (who is willing to pay the congestion pricing fees, of course) could flow across I-595 and into I-95, guaranteed 55mph service the whole way (once the I-595 congestion pricing comes online as well).  This is an obvious concern: we are in a sense providing easiest access to our urban areas to those who live the furthest away…

To read more on Ramp Metering, click here.

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If you’ve ever been driving along the highway and suddenly everything comes to a dead stop or a slow down for no apparent reason you’ve been caught up in a shockwave traffic jam. The Mathematical Society of Traffic Flow in Japan has created this video to illustrate the shockwave phenomenon. In Miami, you’ll typically find yourself in one of these heading on US-1 southbound just after I-95 (a spot where you should likely be riding metrorail instead…)

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Ah, the 1950′s, a time when the US economy was rebounding from the stresses of World War II and federal money was freely flowing every which way to rebuild a struggling economy. The most notable “achievement” which evolved from this hasty federal spending was the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act (Dwight Eisenhower Interstate System) of 1956.

As this documentary illustrates well, the 1950′s was also a time for extreme naivety, clearly shown through the future independence personal vehicles will bring to our cities. The ideas range from absurd construction techniques (an atomic reactor which creates tunnels with extreme heat) to far more absurd “new dimensions for the American highway.”

If there is one statement where the show was actually spot on, I’d say it’s this one:

“The shape of our cities will change, as expanded highway transportation decentralizes our population centers into vast urban areas. With the advent of wider, faster expressways the commuter’s radius will be extended many miles”

You can say that again…

The official video description:

An excerpt from the 1958 “Disneyland” TV Show episode entitled “Magic Highway USA”. In this last part of the show, an exploration into possible future Transportation technologies is made. It’s hard to believe how little we’ve accomplished on this front since 1958, and how limited the scope for imagining such future technologies has become. Witness an artifact from a time where the future was greeted with optimism. Note the striking animation style here, achieved with fairly limited animation and spectacular layouts.

Today’s Metro Monday come to us from our loyal reader James Good.

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