Business slowdown: Traffic jams up South Florida's economy - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Business slowdown: Traffic jams up South Florida's economy

MIAMI - Fix it!

That's the cry from South Florida business owners as backed-up roads take their toll on companies from Palm Beach County to the Keys.

A Miami Herald survey distributed through local chambers of commerce found that businesspeople overwhelmingly rate traffic here as "very bad," saying it has gotten significantly worse in the last three years.

More than half said employees at their company are "always or often" late because of traffic.

Though Miami's traffic isn't the nation's worst -- that dubious distinction goes to cities including Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin -- the complaints aren't the usual, idle grumbling.

Hard numbers back up the fact that local traffic is slowing to a crawl: Congestion in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties was up 21 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year, according to a study by the global traffic solutions firm INRIX.

Locals now waste an average of 37 hours per year stuck in traffic, seven more than the year before, meaning South Florida leapfrogged greater Washington, D.C., as the 10th-most congested metro area in the country, Seattle-based INRIX found.

From mom-and-pop shops to multi-national corporations, traffic is making it harder to do business in South Florida.

"Everybody knows our roads are really, really crowded and it's impossible to navigate during the day," said Mitchell Friedman, a partner at the developer Pinnacle Housing Group. "It's making it much harder for people to commute to work."

The reasons for the growing traffic nightmare are clear.

Congestion fell 30 percent nationally after the recession. Now that the economy is back on its feet, workers laid off during the downturn have found new jobs and are hitting the roads during the morning rush. South Florida's population is booming as out-of-towners move in. Tourists are flocking to the beaches. Gas is relatively cheap.

All that means more cars on the road, especially in a city where many commuters can't easily use public transit.

Development becomes a sword that cuts both ways if infrastructure can't keep up, said Tony Villamil, founder of the Coral Gables-based consulting firm Washington Economic Group.

"The whole mark of a modern economy, especially a logistics-type economy like ours, is the ability to move people and merchandise quickly from one place to the next," said Villamil, whose firm has conducted traffic studies for the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority.Making your way from South Miami-Dade or Broward into downtown Miami's central business district can feel like a journey through Dante's circles of hell, workers say.

On average, it takes workers in the United States 25.5 minutes to get to their jobs, according to U.S. Census data. But in South Florida's more affordable suburbs, that number rises. Commuters in Homestead face a daily, one-way trip to work of 32.5 minutes. People who work in Kendall (30.5 minutes), Miramar (30.4 minutes), Pembroke Pines (29.9 minutes) and Weston (29.5 minutes) also face longer-than-average daily commutes, Census data show.

That means businesses in the urban core -- where affordable housing is scarce -- can lose out on employees.

"I had some job offers in Miami when I graduated college," said Ashley Fierman, who lives in Cooper City and works in public relations. "But it's no secret how bad traffic is in Miami. It's like a parking lot. I couldn't face that everyday."

Fierman ended up taking a job in Plantation.

In the Miami Herald survey, businesspeople were clear that they think traffic is holding the local economy back.

About 86 percent of the 429 people who responded to the survey answered "yes" to the question: "Do you think traffic is hurting the economy in South Florida?" About 70 percent of those surveyed said traffic was hurting their companies directly.

They ranged from doctors and lawyers to restaurant owners, real estate agents and executives at major corporations.

Susan Sherr, an optometrist at an eye doctor's practice in South Miami, says as many as a quarter of her patients run late to appointments because of traffic.

"The later-in-the-day appointments tend to be the trickiest," Sherr said. "They're hitting that people-coming-out-of-work traffic."

Late patients mean longer waits for all involved.

"It throws off our whole schedule completely," Sherr said. "I like to use every second of the time I'm given with people. If they come in 10 minutes late, it's not fair to take 10 minutes from the next person."

But Sherr said she knows it's not her patients' fault.

"It's part of life around here," she said. "I really feel for the patients who call and say they're stuck in some kind of awful jam. I know it. I live it."

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