‘We need that tunnel open:’ Fort Lauderdale mayor says whole city tired of all the detours

The U.S. 1 tunnel, a popular route for commuters traveling through downtown Fort Lauderdale, has been ground zero for gridlock for 28 months and counting.

Drivers have endured detour after detour for more than two years, ever since construction began on a $28.4 million upgrade in September 2021.

Several times, the Henry E. Kinney Tunnel has closed in both directions, as it did on Tuesday at 7 a.m. This time, the tunnel will remain closed for five days, reopening on Saturday at 5 p.m. as long as the work crews stay on schedule installing new air handlers.

This latest closure should be the last one related to the construction upgrade, says Billy Canedo, spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation.

The work was expected to take two years but is taking longer than planned due to delays caused by rainstorms and supply shortages, Canedo said.

When will the job be done once and for all?

“We’re looking at late spring,” Canedo said. “It’s hard to to predict. That’s assuming no weather delays or unforeseen circumstances.”

State transportation officials are planning no ribbon cutting, but admit it will be a day of celebration when the work is finally done.

“I think everyone will be relieved,” Canedo said. “It’s obviously very inconvenient to have this sort of disruption.”

The work on the tunnel has taken far too long, says Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis.

“We need that tunnel open,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Tuesday. “The people of this city are losing their patience. Ask anyone who lives in Rio Vista. Anyone who is racing to get to the airport. It was an unnecessary interruption with the flow of city life. It was unnecessary for them to take this long. We could have built the tunnel from scratch in that amount of time.”

Complaints have been flowing in ever since the work began to both City Hall and DOT’s project team.

“We get complaints every single day,” Trantalis said. “The community is completely frustrated by the lethargic progress on the tunnel restoration. We do not see an army of workers at the site. You see occasional workers who from time to time change some aspect of that tunnel.”

David McCarthy is one of those residents who has lost patience.

A longtime resident of Rio Vista, McCarthy has doubts the project will be done by May, as the state predicts.

“The Golden Gate Bridge took only four years to complete,” he said. “At (nearly) three years and counting, the Kinney Tunnel (project) will likely end up taking longer. I passed through at 8 and 8:30 (Tuesday) morning and there was no one in sight.”

Bob Casullo says he’s content to just stay in his condo on the beach.

“We avoid going anywhere,” he said. “It’s not like you head to the mall at 1 p.m. You just don’t do it. You stay home. It doesn’t matter what direction you go. You can’t get anywhere.”

Canedo says state officials understand the need to vent.

“We’re trying to get this work done as soon as possible,” he said.

State DOT workers are forced to take the same detours, just like everyone else, Canedo added.

“I have to take the detours too,” he said. “I don’t have a special pass.”

During this week’s closure of the tunnel, commuters moving downtown can expect to see take detour signs as they approach the tunnel.

Northbound traffic will be detoured via Southeast Seventh Street, Southeast Third Avenue and Broward Boulevard.

Southbound traffic will be detoured via Broward Boulevard, Southeast Third Avenue and Davie Boulevard.

Here’s what we’re getting for $28.4 million:

Ventilation fans were replaced to improve air flow; new LED tunnel lighting; delaminated tiles were removed; electrical equipment was upgraded; stormwater pumps were replaced; bicycle-friendly drainage grates were installed; fire lines and equipment were upgraded; emergency signing and lighting were upgraded; pavement was resurfaced.

In addition, crews installed an Intelligent Transportation System that will allow DOT to monitor the tunnel from a remote location.

The upgrades include dynamic message signs; CCTV cameras, including in the tunnel; warning gates and signals at each tunnel entrance; vehicle sensors to warn vehicles that are too high to enter; and upgrades to signalized intersections with Adaptive Traffic Signal Control for enhanced mobility along the U.S. 1.

The new pump systems will help keep the tunnel from flooding, but they likely won’t be able to stop it altogether during intense storms.

“Water is going to come in,” Canedo said. “The pumps are there to keep the tunnel dry. But I can’t tell you it’s never going to flood.”

When the tunnel does flood, the state will now have special gates to block the entrance on both sides to keep cars from entering. It’s all part of the $28.4 million upgrade to make the tunnel safer and better, state officials say.

Susannah Bryan can be reached at sbryan@sunsentinel.com. Follow me on X @Susannah_Bryan