It's time to extend Sawgrass Expressway to I-95

Deerfield Beach opponents should yield to greater good

Why does the Sawgrass Expressway end so abruptly — and illogically — before it meets Interstate 95 in Deerfield Beach? Because that's what small-minded political leaders and community obstructionists wanted when the highway was built a generation ago.

That hasn't been for the greater regional good, especially for commuters in the northwest Broward cities Coral Springs and Parkland and southern Palm Beach County who want smoother access to all major highways.

Now there's renewed talk of finally extending the Sawgrass so that it doesn't end with bottleneck traffic on a frustrating, three-mile stretch known as Southwest 10th Street.

But it remains only talk.

I say it's long past time for action.

Last month, the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization agreed to form a committee to consider options for the corridor. "The general consensus was that something needs to be done," said Gerry O'Reilly, of the Florida Department of Transportation.

But whether that something is adding lanes to the existing surface street, building flyovers at key intersections or extending the Sawgrass Expressway to its logical conclusion remains to be seen.

In a more sensible world, the Sawgrass would seamlessly connect with I-95 and Florida's Turnpike at its northern end. The beltway loops around the western suburbs, then runs along the edge of the Everglades, feeding into I-595 and I-75 at its southern end.

For most of its length, the Sawgrass flows freely. But when it morphs into Southwest 10th Street, it's more like a kidney stone: all blocked up, and painful for those who must endure it.

There are eight traffic lights on Southwest 10th Street between the end of the Sawgrass and I-95. Drivers heading westbound on Southwest 10th Street can't get on the turnpike. And northbound turnpike drivers can't exit east onto Southwest 10th Street.

Confusing? Yes. Annoying? Yes. And it was all by design. When the Sawgrass opened in 1986, Deerfield politicians and residents blocked it from running to I-95. They also fought extension efforts in 1993 and 2008. Meanwhile, the western Broward suburbs and southern Palm Beach County kept growing.

As it turned out, nobody's interests were served.

In the 1980s, powerful Deerfield Beach commissioner Amadeo "Trinchi" Trinchitella and his Century Village constituents feared that a completed Sawgrass would bring noise and traffic, ruining the quality of life.

So with an incomplete Sawgrass, what did residents get? Noise and traffic, and a compromised quality of life. Southwest 10th Street has become the mother of all cut-through streets. Some 45,000 cars travel the stretch daily.

With the advent of better sound barriers, you'd think it would be preferable to have a highway running overhead and frontage roads for local residents and businesses (similar to I-595 and State Road 84 in central Broward).

Regional and state transportation officials say they want input from residents and commuters before charting a course. There's no timetable and no money earmarked for construction.

But that could change, if the Broward MPO — a body mostly consisting of elected officials — decides to make the Sawgrass extension a priority.

It's time.

mmayo@tribune.com; 954-356-4508

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