New way to head south from airport surprises some officials

The new airport runway "has been vetted by everyone under the universe," as one local official puts it.

And yet one small but crucial detail has commissioners in cities lying south of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport saying, "Now wait just a minute."

Somehow, it's news to them that the southbound ramp directly to Federal Highway won't be coming back when the new runway opens in the fall, even though the plans have been in the works for years.

A new indirect ramp to southbound U.S. 1 will connect drivers to Northeast Seventh Avenue, where they will continue south to Northeast 10th Street, then head west to U.S. 1 at Griffin Road.


Hollywood Doggie Beach Pictures

Since the airport construction started, drivers wanting to go south are forced to head north until they can make a U-turn, creating confusion and gridlock.

Hollywood commissioners assumed the direct southbound exit loss was only temporary, and that it would come back as soon as the new $791 million runway in complete in mid-September.

"No one ever called the city of Hollywood to tell us what they were going to do," Hollywood Commissioner Patricia Asseff said. "This is so mind-boggling to me. This is the craziest thing I've ever heard. Why wouldn't someone have said something to us? It's not the city's fault. They should have come to us and told us. What do we do now? Sue them?"

The old southbound exit was demolished to make way for the new $791 million south runway and its network of tunnels that allow traffic to flow north and south along U.S. 1 underneath the runway.

Broward County Commissioner Tim Ryan said he was surprised to hear that Hollywood officials had been in the dark about the new southbound exit and didn't know what all the fuss was about.

"It's done," he said. "It's already been designed."

But Hollywood officials want to get together with Hallandale Beach and Dania Beach to see if they can get a new ramp with a more direct route to southbound U.S. 1.

"No one has said they are going to fix it or that they have the money to fix it," said Hollywood Commissioner Dick Blattner, who is also chairman of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization.

County officials are expected to meet with the affected cities within the next two weeks to discuss the issue.

"We're going to find out how it happened and how we can mitigate it," Blattner said. "There needs to be a route out of the airport that doesn't take us through the back roads of Fort Lauderdale."

But for now, the county is moving ahead with its current plan, said Allan Siegel, a spokesman for the Broward County Aviation Department.

The new ramp will be safer than the old because it won't require drivers to cross several lanes of traffic to reach the southbound exit ramp, Siegel said.

"The old exit ramp to U.S. 1 was much closer to the terminals and drivers had to cross several lanes of traffic in a relatively short distance," Siegel said. "With the new exit ramp further away from the terminals, drivers can easily move into the correct lane and exit to U.S. 1 southbound."

Dania Beach Mayor Walter Duke said he'd known about the new southbound exit for years.

"The engineers tell me it's safer and cheaper," Duke said. "This giant monster has been vetted by everyone under the universe."

Nonetheless, Duke said he was sympathetic to Hollywood's concerns and would take a seat at the table when they sit down to hash out whether there's a better solution.

Hallandale Beach Commissioner Michele Lazarow was surprised to learn the southbound exit won't be returning.

"I would be very interested in hearing the rationale," she said. "I don't think it's going to deter people from using that airport. People are still going to fly. I just think it's very inconvenient."

Hallandale Beach Commissioner William Julian was also perplexed as to why the engineers couldn't have come up with a more direct route.

"There's going to be thousands of cars that are going to need to go south," he said. "It's just a long way to go. I've been living here since 1955, and I've had to adjust my lifestyle with all this construction. It's just another … burden on the tourists and the residents."

Hollywood resident Sheldon Burstein wasn't happy either.

"That's a tremendous inconvenience," Burstein said. "Very poor planning."

Hollywood Commissioner Peter Hernandez wondered how much more it will cost southbound travelers in gas and cab fare.

"If you need to take a taxi from the airport, imagine how much more that's going to cost you," Hernandez said. "You have to go east, then south, then west to get back to U.S. 1. The scenic route, I would say."

sbryan@tribune.com or 954-356-4554