The building of the Tamiami Trail across the Everglades in the 1920’s was one of the most disruptive events in the history of the Everglades ecosystem. Completed in 1928 across the Everglades it was considered a feat of engineering at the time and completed a continues road link between Tampa and Miami. Originally designated as US 94 it eventually became an extension of US 41 from Tampa to Miami.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ epic The Everglades: River of Grass published in 1947 began to inform the public as to ecological damage done by human-made projects including Tamiami Trail and Tamiami Canal which runs alongside the road. The road and canal worked as an effective barrier to block the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee south to Florida Bay, cutting the ecosystem in two and impacting animal and plant species detrimentally.
In 1970, an effort to build the world’s largest airport right off the highway was killed thanks to the effort of environmentalists- the jetport probably would have been the death knell for the Everglades ecosystem, but few changes were made to reverse the damage made by the highway itself to the environment for several more decades.
The ecological damage done by the highway has forced many recent projects – in the 1990’s culverts were built to allow some flow of water under the highway and through the canal. Then in the 2000’s discussion of an “Everglades Skyway,” an elevated bridge over about 9 miles that would have moved more water into the Shark River and Taylor Slough’s.
A compromise worked out to build a one mile bridge which was completed in 2013 and a 2.6 mile bridge which is currently under construction. The budget for these projects has been a rare bipartisan victory in a hyper-partisan political era, with leaders of both parties agreeing that restoration of the water flow is vital to south Florida’s survival.
Another road was built across the Everglades from the Gulf Coast to southeast Florida – in the late 1960’s Alligator Alley was constructed. Originally a two-lane toll road, the highway was among the most dangerous in the United States. When Alligator Alley was built as State Road 84 the highway was strongly opposed by leaders in Miami and Tampa. But it was strongly advocated by Collier County residents who felt it would stimulate growth and Broward County, by then Florida’s second most populated. Broward lacked a direct link to the west coast.
Around the same time a decision was made to extend I-75 south from Tampa to Miami. The state had at the time considered building a west coast Turnpike to link the sprawling areas of southwest Florida with the central part of the state. With federal funds now on offer, I-75 was built down to Naples, but the idea of upgrading Tamiami Trail to interstate standards ran into several hurdles. First was the Tamiami Trail itself, already creating ecological damage – an expressway running near Everglades National Park and through what would be designated as the Big Cypress National Wildlife Refugee would be problematic. An even bigger concern was the narrow shoulders and left exits of SR 836 in Miami which would need to be upgraded to interstate standards to carry I-75.
With Broward County booming and Alligator Alley a death trap, the decision was made to route I-75 that way, connecting with I-595 which was to be built into Fort Lauderdale. I-75 would then dip south toward Miami – this is the route it takes today. However, it wasn’t until 1992 Alligator Alley was fully upgraded for four lanes and made part of I-75.