Skyway raises hopes for Everglades

Restores flow of water, aids wetlands, animals

One of the first major projects designed to restore the Everglades and provide relief for struggling wetlands and endangered wildlife is underway on a stretch of open road connecting Miami and Naples.
The project, known as the Everglades Skyway, lifts a section of the Tamiami Trail, the road that runs through the southern Everglades, high in the air so that water can flow naturally under it.
Since the Tamiami Trail was built in the 1920s, it has acted as a barrier to Everglades water flowing south. The government cut channels under the road but the channels were relatively narrow and the flow of water was nothing like what it had been before the road went in.  The work is part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project being carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District and other organizations.

“A critical reason to do this is because the Everglades is sinking and the soil is evaporating,” said Jonathan Ullman of the Sierra Club. “The water is not reaching all parts, especially in the dry season.”

The skyway will take several years to complete and cost tens of millions of dollars.  Supporters of the project say that it will create new jobs, a safer alternative to the existing two-lane highway, and ultimately help tourism. The supporters see it as a marker in the restoration of the Everglades.

Restoring the natural water flow is expected to benefit several endangered animals and plants.  Birds like the wood stork, the Cape Sable seaside sparrow and the roseate spoonbill have not been getting the water they need, said Leslie Velarde of the National Park Service.

Velarde said that 30 different projects during the next 30 years are aimed at restoring the Everglades.

Talking about the skyway, Christopher Migliaccio, professor of ecology and environmental sciences at Miami Dade College, said it will make things better in the Everglades. “But,” he said, “it’s only one piece of a much larger picture.”

Nevertheless, he said, it is a shift in the right direction. In the past, “the priorities have been to provide water and flood control for the expanding human population rather than to prioritize wildlife’s needs.”

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