Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Thursday Key Biscayne residents will get to help shape a renovation of the Rickenbacker Causeway. She made the statement as the County Commission voted to start a two-track process that will look at competing ideas for the iconic chain of bridges that cross the turquoise waters of Biscayne Bay.
“As mayor I would never do anything that would not include substantial involvement and input from the area residents,” Cava said. She did not provide details, but other officials said there will be a public meeting to review goals.
Key Biscayne Mayor Mike Davey, who spoke at the Commission meeting and who had a brief discussion with Cava before the vote, said he reinforced the idea that the island’s concerns about traffic and safety have to be in the mix of ideas along with safer cyclist, pedestrian, and waterfront park space
“Bear Cut bridge has to be rebuilt. There is no question about that,” Davey said. “It’s a first step. I still have a lot of questions.”
Thursday’s vote kicks off a second, public track for a possible renovation. The public track, which would follow standard procurement rules, would compete with a secret unsolicited proposal made to the County in March by the Zyscovich consortium, a process permitted by state law. The Zyscovich concept envisions a public-private partnership known as a “P3” that would be funded with toll revenue, officials said.
The existence of the secret proposal was made public by Cava this week, although the concept has been discussed for years.
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An earlier version of the Zyscovich plan was thought to cost at least $300 million, but it’s not known how closely the secret proposal matches public concepts. That earlier Plan Z concept did not include the 2.8 mile Venetian Causeway, which is also part of the current proposal – a factor that will increase costs significantly. The competing public plan would not be a P3 and presumably would be funded in the traditional way — by government borrowing.
As an alternative to borrowing, governments sometimes use P3’s to fund large projects by earmarking revenue for private business. The $1 billion tunnel connecting the Port of Miami with downtown Miami was an example of a P3, with an income stream coming from user fees charged to cruise ship passengers.
At the meeting, however, several commissioners signaled that they would be wary of large toll increases or concession fees that might be the basis of a P3 Income stream for the causeway.
Commissioner Rene Garcia worried about a toll burden falling on workers who commute to jobs on the island. And he said raising automobile tolls alone would not be fair, saying cyclists and joggers would stand to benefit greatly from a causeway upgrade. “They should have some skin in the game,” he said.
“I know that Key Biscayne wants to be part of it,” said Commissioner Joe Martinez. “They should also help pay for it.” He said he was worried that areas like Hobe Beach would become concessions. “What used to be free…is not going to be free anymore.”
It’s unknown, however, just how much information will be shared under the secretive nature of the P3 process. Although County officials will draft bid specifications that try to match elements of the secret Zyscovich plan, details may be held back.
In the end, the panel voted to direct staff to prepare a request for proposal with a plea from Commissioner Raquel Regalado, who said time was running out to address safety issues.
“We need to do something about the failing infrastructure into Key Biscayne,” she said. “I don’t know if this unsolicited proposal is the answer, but I do know Miami-Dade County does not have the infrastructure funds.”
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.