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Updated: January 7, 2022 @ 12:21 pm
Bright fogbow over the Bear Cut Bridge on a calm foggy morning off Key Biscayne, Florida.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Raquel Regalado’s first pitch of the new year was a fastball. But, whether or not it’s a strike will be up to her fellow board members.
Sponsoring a resolution directing County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava or her designee to provide a plan to prioritize the replacement of Bear Cut Bridge within 60 days of the Feb. 1 date on the legislative item, Regalado’s latest move to protect the community, especially Key Biscayne residents, could have wider amplifications.
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The resolution is expected to be placed on the County Commission’s Jan. 19 meeting agenda. That is the same day commissioners could vote on Mayor Cava’s earlier recommendation that the Request for Proposal procurement process to challenge the Plan Z Consortium’s enhancement plan for Rickenbacker Causeway should either start anew or continue with modifications.
Prioritizing Bear Cut Bridge, built in 1944, and which has undergone repairs in 1983 and 2013, would effectively change, or possibly eliminate, the Plan Z Consortium proposal, which does include a plan to replace the only access to Key Biscayne at an estimated cost of $310 million (of the total package, reportedly worth some $496.7 million).
The earliest that work could start on the bridge in that case likely would be 2026, earlier reports show.
Regalado contends that it might be futile for the County to continue repairs — the latest to address cracks and spalls in substructure components, with construction slated to begin in the winter of 2023. Also, she wrote in the resolution, federal funding might be available soon, perhaps money that would cover the bulk of a replacement.
“The RFP, as currently structured, has produced confusion and heartburn for a number of stakeholders,” Regalado said Thursday in a statement to the Islander News. “I believe it is best that this RFP process end so that we can restart from the beginning a process that appropriately prioritizes elements that need to be considered on Rickenbacker Causeway.”
On the day Mayor Cava was flying to Washington, D.C., in early December to speak to “key players” at the Capitol in hopes of acquiring federal funding for Bear Cut Bridge, the William Powell Bridge and possibly other safety projects along Rickenbacker Causeway, she made her recommendations to all but cancel the current procurement process, which now has a March 1 bidding deadline after a couple of extensions.
Her announcement came the morning after hearing Village of Key Biscayne leaders and residents strongly voice their opinions during a virtual Town Hall meeting in which both pros and cons to the procurement process were explained in detail by “hundreds of members of the community and key stakeholders,” either live or in letters or emails.
Earlier in the fall, Mayor Cava self-commissioned a Value for Money (VfM) assessment, advice which included a “do-over,” which she also took into consideration.
“We all agree (in the Village), and the Commissioner’s Office agrees, that maybe we need to take a step back and gather more information,” Village Manager Steve Williamson had said earlier, regarding specifics on how (and how much) tolls would be collected, operation and maintenance costs, and additional survey assessments to the famed 5.4-mile causeway.
Regalado chairs Miami-Dade County’s Infrastructure, Operations and Innovations Committee, so this latest move was in her wheelhouse. By waiving her scheduled Jan. 13 committee meeting, her resolution possibly could be placed on the County Commission’s first 2022 meeting, set for Jan. 19. The resolution already has passed through the office of the County Attorney.
Officials at Mayor Cava’s Town Hall in December assured Bear Cut Bridge is safe for now, although that’s without knowing what effect a major hurricane could have. The iconic Biscayne Bay crossover has been a hot topic since a 2023 report deemed it “structurally deficient” by the Florida Department of Transportation, in terms of load capacity.
According to official statistics, some 500,000 bicyclists and 250,000 pedestrians annually use some parts of the Rickenbacker Causeway, one of the busiest roadways in South Florida, averaging 10 million vehicles a year, according to the Miami Herald.
In Regalado’s resolution, she wrote in part:
Bright fogbow over the Bear Cut Bridge on a calm foggy morning off Key Biscayne, Florida.
– The location of the Bear Cut Bridge makes it susceptible to salt erosion, other environmental factors;
– Bear Cut Bridge may be vulnerable to impacts from major hurricanes;
– The residents of the Key Biscayne have repeatedly advocated for a replacement of Bear Cut Bridge;
– The safety of the residents of Miami-Dade County is of utmost concern to this Board;
– In 1983, a widening and rehabilitation of the bridge was performed;
– In 2013, there was major rehabilitation performed at Bear Cut Bridge, including partial substructure replacement, roadway milling and resurfacing, new lightening and widening;
– In October 2021, design began to address deficiencies found in the substructure components of the Bear Cut bridge to address delaminations, cracks and spalls at the columns, pier caps, piles and pile caps, seawall bulkhead cap and panels, slope protection and main girders. In addition, previous pile repairs, such as pile jackets and cathodic protection will be evaluated and repaired as well;
* Design is expected to be completed in Spring of 2023 with construction expected to begin Winter 2023;
* There may be federal funds that could be accessed for the replacement of Bear Cut Bridge;
* It may not be in the best interest of the County to continue to repair Bear Cut Bridge;
* This Board desires that the replacement of the Bear Cut Bridge be prioritized.
During the course of last year, Commissioner Regalado held her own Town Hall meetings with Key Biscayne residents and city leaders following a public outcry on a process that appeared to shut the city out with a required “Cone of Silence” and not involving city leaders at the beginning of the procurement process in the unsolicited bid.
The Plan Z Consortium essentially is the starting point to improve safety on the causeway where several bicyclists have been struck and killed over the years.
“Pedestrian and bike safety are very important,” Regalado said Thursday. “Park amenities are desirable (too). But Bear Cut is a critical element that needs to be at the top of the list.
“I will certainly be asking my colleagues to help us reframe this issue so that we can work with the community and stakeholders on both priorities, and the question of how we pay for it.”