Tamiami Trail Bridges Already Showing That Everglades Restoration Works

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Completed Everglades Restoration projects—like the bridges along Tamiami Trail—and projects that are in an advanced stage of construction (e.g., Kissimmee River Restoration) are already meeting or exceeding expectations in terms of environmental improvement.

Tamiami Trail or US-41 links the cities of Tampa and Miami—hence the name Tamiami.  The stretch of Tamiami Trail that cuts across the Everglades was built in the late 1920’s and blocked flow across the River of Grassat roughly the same time that water from Lake Okeechobee was redirected away from the Everglades toward the east and west coasts.

By the time Everglades National Park was established to the south of Tamiami Trail in 1947, the impacts of reduced freshwater flow—especially during the dry season—were notable. Since then, we have seen dramatic loss of habitats such as tree islands, massive seagrass die-offs and algae blooms in Florida Bay, large and severe fires (including the 40,000-acre Mustang Corner fire in 2008), multi-decade declines in small fish, loss of wading bird super colonies, invasion by invasive and exotic species of plants and animals, and declining body condition in alligators—a top predator and perhaps the Everglades’ most iconic species.

Over the previous decade, two bridges totaling 3.5 miles in length, were built along Tamiami Trail. These bridges now allow for unimpeded flow of water into Everglades National Park for the first time in nearly a century.  After just a few short years of operation, we are already seeing major indications of success with increased flows of water into the park and extended periods of marsh hydration in the dry season.  The graphic and photo below illustrate these transformations.  Scientists from the park and Florida International University are also beginning to see a positive shift in vegetation that reflects improved habitat for the smallest of prey fish up to large predators such as wading birds and alligators.

Water levels in Tamiami Trail canal from 2010 to present, indicating the increased capacity allowed by Tamiami Trail bridges.  Higher water levels since 2016 (in green box) equate to increased flow of water into Everglades National Park.  Data source: U.S. Geological Survey/Everglades Depth Estimation Network.

Aerial photo taken over northeast Shark River Slough of Everglades National Park, just south of a Tamiami Trail bridge.  Taken on March 1, 2020 (the middle of the dry season), the photo shows sustained hydration of marshes that would otherwise be dry during this time of year.  Photo by: Garrison duP. Lickle, pilot and board member of The Everglades Foundation. Flight provided courtesy of LightHawk.

 

 

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