Physical Characteristics of Southeast Florida

Coastal Ridge

Open Space

Land Use

Freshwater Resources

Transportation Resources

Energy Conservation

Major Public Facilities and Services

Coastal Ridge

Prior to urban development, the study area was largely covered by oak and pine forest. Much of the remainder was upland tropical hardwood hammock. The study area includes the coastal ridge, an inland strip of relatively high ground running parallel to the coast. Lands on the coastal ridge are more protected from flooding but are still near the Atlantic Ocean. This is why both Southeast Florida's rail lines were built on the coastal ridge. In Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties the coastal ridge is one natural defense against a storm surge, which is usually the most destructive aspect of a hurricane. Southeast Florida's other natural defense is the barrier islands that take the brunt of the storm's impacts.

The coastal ridge effectively blocks the inland movement of hurricane storm surges in Palm Beach County. Danger to land from storm surges in the study area is generally limited to property east of U.S. 1 near the Intracoastal Waterway. In Broward County, south of Atlantic Boulevard, the coastal ridge becomes a less effective shield, as its general elevation decreases and it is broken through by east-to-west valleys, known as sloughs, that naturally drained the Everglades before any canals were dug. From Atlantic Boulevard south, the study area's topography consists of islands of high ground surrounded by low areas more susceptible to flooding. Two areas are particularly susceptible to the effects of flooding from hurricanes:

Central Broward County, east of I-95, which acts as the floodplain for the Middle and New Rivers, and southern Dade County, south of Kendall Drive, where the coastal ridge loses its elevation and eventually terminates.

These areas are generally vulnerable to very intense storms. Fortunately, hazards from storms in these areas can be mitigated by careful construction. The vast majority of the study area is free from the worst hazards of storm surges characteristic of the coastal high hazard areas of Southeast Florida.

Open Space

While residents enjoy Southeast Florida's public beaches and parks along the Intracoastal Waterway, few large tracts of land are dedicated for conservation purposes in the study area. Most large open spaces are either former lime quarries, large county parks or golf courses. Local governments in Southeast Florida are actively working to acquire the remaining tracts of environmentally sensitive land. Among the growing number of dedicated conservation areas are Secret Woods Nature Center in central Broward County and West Lake Park in Hollywood. Yamato Scrub, a large tract of upland pine and oak forest in northern Boca Raton, will soon be dedicated as conservation land and the City of Boca Raton has also purchased four other conservation preserves containing upland and wetland habitat using local bond issue funds. Dade County is maintaining a challenging 2.75 acres of recreational/open space for every 1,000 residents.

Land Use

As a whole, the Eastward Ho! study area contains a relatively healthy mix of different land uses, densities and intensities. It contains more than 80% of the total land designated for industrial uses within the three counties and a majority of the municipal central business districts. The study area contains a greater share of commercial space in terms of floor area than the region as a whole. While the study area contains an adequate number of small neighborhood parks, it has fewer large county parks or conservation areas when compared to the entire tri-county region.

Residential development in the study area varies in type and affordability from high-rise condominiums to single-family homes, with examples of virtually every housing type and density in between. Single-family residential lot sizes generally range from one-quarter to one-half of an acre, with lots in some older neighborhoods up to an acre in size. Although larger lots and lower densities in single-family neighborhoods are less efficient, particularly as they relate to infrastructure, they can also reduce the pressure for public open space and recreational amenities. For residents of multi-family units in the study area, the need for more open space and recreational amenities still exists. This is an important consideration when proposing redevelopment at higher densities in the study area.

There are an array of different future land uses proposed for the future in the study area. In Dade County, greater concentrations of multi-family residential, commercial, and industrial uses are proposed for the transportation corridor connecting downtown Miami and the Miami International Airport. In Broward County, additional industrial uses are planned west of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Commercial uses would replace industrial and open space lands north of Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. Higher concentrations of multi-family residential uses are planned north of downtown Fort Lauderdale and in the northern half of Broward County along the I-95 corridor. Palm Beach County proposes increased concentrations of residential uses within the study area.

Creative infill and redevelopment is the most viable way to accommodate growth and improve Southeast Florida's economic and environmental health. Opportunities for creative redevelopment are plentiful within the study area. Land becomes more affordable as existing development deteriorates and property values drop. The architectural character and variety of older buildings create opportunities for sensitive renovation and adaptive reuse. Single undeveloped parcels in downtown provide business owners with an opportunity to locate where the action is, and where there is available infrastructure. Homes in established neighborhoods offer residents a chance to live closer to work, school and play, saving families' time and money in commuting costs.

Freshwater Resources

Freshwater in the study area is limited in quantity and quality. The greatest demand for potable water is located where the supply is limited. Groundwater is Southeast Florida's major source of freshwater and is vulnerable to contamination. Potable water wells in the eastern portion of Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties have for many years been subject to pollution from above-ground as well as by the underground intrusion of saltwater. Some wells are also at risk because of their proximity to potential sources of pollution, such as landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and contaminated sites located within or immediately adjacent to wellfield protection zones.

Population projections, when compared to water supply, point to water as a major growth-related problem, not only in the study area, but also in Southeast Florida as a whole. The South Florida Water Management District warns that there may be insufficient water available in the future to meet all demands during a drought. Some local governments in the study area have taken steps to conserve water by requiring the use of treated effluent, or "greywater", for non-potable uses like landscape irrigation. This is an important, though expensive, undertaking. Within the study area there are a significant number of areas still relying on septic tanks and, in some areas, private wells for drinking water. While some areas with these conditions are functioning well, others are risking public health problems. Elimination of these conditions is essential to successful plans for restoration of the urbanized area.

Transportation Resources

Historically, development in Southeast Florida assumed the cheap and ready availability of the automobile. The result is numerous large suburban developments with little public transit service throughout the region. Emphasis must be placed on alternative forms of development and transportation in order to reduce the region's heavy dependence on the automobile. In order to maximize existing resources and best direct future transportation investments, transportation in Southeast Florida should be viewed as a collection of choices, all of which should be viable for the majority of the region's citizens. Choices include individual automobiles, airlines, buses, watertaxis, Tri-Rail, cycling, walking, and in the future, high speed rail connecting Southeast Florida to Orlando and Tampa and passenger service on the FEC rail line. Depending on a person's purpose and destination, he or she could use one or more of these options on a daily basis to travel around Southeast Florida.

Within the Eastward Ho! study area lie three international airports, five local airports, and three of Florida's major seaports. Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County are preparing for future growth in a high intensity international economy by either expanding or improving their airport facilities. Seaport activity is extremely competitive and is generally expanding.

As stated, the north to south spine of the Eastward Ho! study area is defined by I-95, the FEC and CSX rail lines, and major road corridors such as U.S. 1 and Dixie Highway. Roads in the study area were generally laid out in a traditional grid pattern, facilitating access, but many of the earliest major thoroughfares were built with insufficient right-of-way for future expansion.

Within the north to south spine of the Eastward Ho! Study area, it is important to mention the Tri-County Commuter Rail using the CSX rail line. Tri-Rail is the only regional transit system in South Florida. It began operation in January 1989 and was originally conceived as a means to maintain traffic during the reconstruction and expansion of I-95. Today, Tri-Rail is viewed as an important permanent transportation feature of South Florida.

Tri-Rail currently runs from West Palm Beach to Miami and has 17 stations. It runs 30 weekday trains and weekend service. Its ridership per weekday had increased from approximately 3,000 riders in 1989 to 8,000 in 1995. Tri-Rail connects to the Metro-Rail at 79th Street in Dade County and will connect to the proposed high speed rail line near West Palm Beach and at the Miami Intermodal Center based on the current plan.

In 1995, because the single track of the CSX rail line ran at capacity, Tri-Rail began the Double Tracking program which will add a second mainline track along the CSX line. With no additional Single Occupancy Vehicles (SOV) lanes to be added to I-95 in the future, commuter rail service will be an important means available to meet future regional mobility needs in the Study area. To be fully supportive of the Eastward Ho! initiative, Tri-Rail requires continuous improvements and support of state and local governments in order to ultimately serve as the spine of the public transportation network in South Florida.

Traffic and congestion continue to be a challenge throughout Southeast Florida. On many major roads, further widening is neither economically feasible nor desirable. In cases such as these, local governments are responding by encouraging public transit. For example, Dade and Broward Counties have implemented strategies that waive requirements for roadway improvements if the developer agrees to accommodate impacts through other alternatives.

To minimize the need for future road widening, address transportation concurrency concerns, and encourage alternate modes of travel and redevelopment, several coastal cities in Palm Beach County, the Palm Beach County Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council are advocating the reopening of the FEC rail line to passenger service. They are planning and developing infill projects, including siting future rail stations along the FEC rail line. This effort must be approached with care, however, to avoid undermining the Tri-Rail system.

Of note is the Old Dixie Highway corridor that parallels the FEC railroad tracks. This corridor is characterized by a wide mix of land uses and conditions that provide an excellent opportunity for redevelopment and infill development. In the southern portion of the study area Old Dixie Highway and U.S. 1 combine and are lined with commercial and residential uses. Some segments along this north-south corridor have recently been widened, beautified and are being redeveloped. Other segments show the effects of deferred maintenance and inadequate parking because of road widening.

The Florida Department of Transportation, in conjunction with a private franchisee, Florida Overland Express, has begun to plan a high speed rail transportation system linking Miami, Orlando and Tampa. The Miami to Orlando section is targeted for completion in 2004; and the Orlando to Tampa section in 2006. In Southeast Florida, the proposed high speed rail route begins at the Miami Intermodal Center near the Miami International Airport, travels west and then north along the edge of the Everglades Water Conservation Areas. Three stations are proposed for Southeast Florida: the Miami Intermodal Center in Dade; near I-595 at Bonaventure in Broward, and west of West Palm Beach in Palm Beach County.

There are two major concerns with the high speed rail corridor as currently proposed. The first is the potential adverse environmental impact on the Everglades ecosystem, both during construction and operation. Second, the proposed corridor will miss almost all opportunities to support redevelopment of the Eastward Ho! area and instead, may attract additional development to the urban fringe. It is important that, as the high speed rail project moves into the certification phase, appropriate conditions be agreed to by the Franchise to address these concerns.

Energy Conservation

Energy conservation efforts have already begun in Southeast Florida. Population and compact urban development patterns, such as those outlined in Dr. Reid Ewing's "Best Development Practices", indicate that Florida's communities - streets and buildings alike - are increasingly changing to more energy-efficient orientations. Compact urban forms of development are 30% more energy efficient long-term than existing sprawling development patterns.

In 1993, the Florida Gold Coast Clean Cities Coalition was established and charged with improving air quality and fostering energy independence by encouraging the replacement of vehicles that run primarily on gasoline and diesel fuels with those that use alternative fuels. The goal is to increase the number of alternative-fuel vehicles operating in communities along the I-95 corridor, and to facilitate the development of refueling stations at Miami, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, and Palm Beach International Airports and at 10-mile intervals from northern Palm Beach County to Homestead. To assist in this effort, funds are available to support alternative-fuel vehicle conversions and purchases by local governments and businesses. Grant awards made to date will displace more than 150,000 gallons of traditional gasoline- based fuels annually. By 1998, enough alternatively fueled vehicles will be operating in Southeast Florida to increase the number of gasoline and diesel fuels displaced by 580,000 gallons annually.

According to a recent Coalition survey, there are more than 600 alternatively fueled fleet vehicles operating along the I-95 corridor with three refueling facilities in Palm Beach County, nine in Broward County, and seven in Dade County. The Coalition projects strong growth in both the numbers of new vehicles and refueling facilities. The technologies most widely used as sources of fuel include natural gas, propane and electricity. The Coalition, by gaining commitments from stakeholders within the region, continues to promote the benefits of clean-burning, energy-efficient fuels, with the ultimate goal of placing 30,000 alternative fuel vehicles on the road and by replacing 21.5 million gallons of gasoline and diesel fuels.

Major Public Facilities and Services

Fundamental to any redevelopment or infill development initiative is the question of quantity and quality of supporting facilities and services. Florida law requires local governments to ensure that certain types of facilities and services be maintained at established levels of service, and supported through the local government's comprehensive plan and land development regulations. The list of facilities and services in this category includes roads, parks and open space, potable water, wastewater, solid waste, drainage and, in the case of counties and larger municipalities, transit. Public facilities and services are not limited to those that must be included in comprehensive plans. Other important facilities and services provided through substantial public investment include: performing arts centers, libraries, sports facilities, convention centers, courthouses and other government buildings, public health facilities, community college and university campuses, and public schools.

Current land uses in the study area bear witness to the extensive public investments made in response to the unrelenting growth experienced by Southeast Florida throughout the twentieth century. As discussed, major economic generators such as international and local airports lie almost evenly spaced along the study area. Each county has its own active and expanding seaport as well as performing arts center. Utility plants, primarily wastewater treatment and potable water treatment plants, are also located throughout the study area. In terms of parks, recreation and open space, there is a greater concentration of open space in Palm Beach County. Throughout Southeast Florida, the greatest concentrations of open space are generally found in the central and western portions of each county.

Transportation facilities and transmission lines for water and wastewater are the primary infrastructure needs. Other capital facilities and services required in local government comprehensive plans appear to be capable of meeting current demands, drainage can sometimes be an exception in Dade and Broward's eastern cities, but the majority of drainage problems lie outside the Eastward Ho! study area.

The efficient coordination of improvements to capital facilities becomes increasingly important as cities grow and jurisdictional responsibilities overlap. For this reason, it is important to closely monitor planned improvements to ensure that they are better orchestrated across jurisdictional lines.

Uncertainty about the true cost and extent of infrastructure improvements that will be needed leaves the private sector wary of investing in the study area. Sometimes it is impossible to predict what one will find when ground is broken for development. There may not be original plans and specifications. Estimates of the ultimate cost become difficult to determine.

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This page and all contents prepared by the South Florida Regional Planning Council.
Updated on Jan. 10, 1997