Normally, I have little use for the Army Corps of Engineers. After all, they are the ones who have worked hand-in-hand with the City to build the ugly concrete walls in Fort Wayne that were erected to stop flooding in a number of areas. Unfortunately, stopping flooding in some areas just increases the flow and direction somewhere else. And that somewhere else has become my corner of Nelson, Thieme, and West Berry. And I blame the Corp and the City for their ill-planned barriers.
So, when I see a Corps project that looks to be doing some good, I will certainly give credit. The Tamiami Trail project slated for southern Florida will open up a segment of highway so that water can return freely to the Everglades. To accomplish this feat, the Corps recently signed an $81 million contract that will raise a one-mile segment of Highway 41 – named the Tamiami Trail – in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The raising of the highway will remove a “plug” of the road which has stopped water on the north side of Highway 41 from returning in a natural flow to the south side of the road and back into the Everglades.
The Trail – also known as the “Poor Man’s Alligator Alley” – requires no toll and drops down south of Interstate 75, the stretch that requires a toll. Both cut across the southern part of Florida and through the Everglades. On the north side of the Trail, the public is paying billions of dollars to store and clean water before it gets to the Everglades. On the south side of the Trail is Everglades National Park, which needs the water.
The project – authorized over 20 years ago – would create a roughly 5-foot clearance so that water could flow under U.S. 41 to where it is needed in the Everglades. In addition to raising the 1 mile, the Corps will raise the elevation of another 9.7 miles, to create enough gradient that water from the “River of Grass” can flow under the bridge.
My own adventure into the The Everglades occurred in May 2001, and it was not planned. My one son was set to be married in Nassau, Bahamas, so I drove down to Fort Lauderdale where I hopped onto a small plane and flew out to Nassau. My route took me along the western edge of Florida so I could see my oldest son who was living in Valrico at the time. My plan was to head south and drive across Alligator Alley – Interstate 75 – and then on to Fort Lauderdale.
I am usually pretty prepared when I am on the road. I planned on stopping along 75 – silly me – and fill up with gas since my tank was pretty low. What I didn’t realize was that once you hop onto 75, the gas stations disappear. One lonely gas station exists between the Naples and Weston tollbooths – something I didn’t learn until it was too late.
As I was tooling along 75, I kept watching my gas needle as it slowly sank lower on the dial. I anxiously watched the horizon for signs of a gas station – those small signs that say “gas, exit ….” None appeared, and the miles kept slipping by. I started to panic somewhat as I knew I did not have enough gas to get me to the other side of Florida. My mind began to fill with pictures of being stranded on a highway aptly named Alligator Alley for a reason – alligators.
Then I saw the exit for Highway 29 which promised it would take me south to Everglades City. I could only hope at that point that Everglades City was big enough to have at least one gas station. I drove along 29 – somewhat dazed at my lack of preparedness and absolutely scared to death I would run out of gas on a forelorn road where alligators would creep up and snap at me. I didn’t notice any fences or barriers along the two-lane road – oh my God – what if I blew a tire, what if I accidentally got too close to the side of the road, what if – what if.
My lord, there was a lot of water on each side. I was truly losing it. I really began to feel sick – I didn’t see any mileage signs to tell me how far Everglades City was, and I kept glancing at that expanse of water and grass stretching for miles on each side of the road. Finally, I saw signs of what was a small town. I could see a gas station sign and several other small businesses popped into view. I had made it to Everglades City. I filled up with gas, and I can’t tell you how relieved I was to head back up to 75 again to complete my journey.
The Everglades is a marvelous and beautiful place, and, had I not been so preoccupied with my fears of being gasless and encountering alligators, I know I would have appreciated it much more.
The Corps’ project is critical to saving what remains of the Everglades. So, much as I often complain about the Corps, this Tamiami Trail feat is a much-needed solution to saving the Everglades. And, I hope that one of these days I will be able to see in person the success of that project.