Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Saturday she will consider a complete reset of plans to renovate and privatize the Rickenbacker Causeway after hearing what she said were valid concerns from Key Biscayne residents worried about traffic to and from the island.
In an interview, Levine Cava said she agreed with many of the points raised by Commissioner Raquel Regalado, who formally called Friday for a more traffic- and safety-focused construction plan.
“It’s definitely a possibility,” the mayor said of starting the bid process over again. But she also said the existing process is very flexible and can accommodate many changes to address resident concerns.
Levine Cava said she is planning to hold her own “sunshine meeting” this coming week to speak with residents and other stakeholders about the causeway plan, which she said is one of her top priorities as mayor.
“This will be my biggest infrastructure project, and it’s critically important that we get it right,” she said. “This is a huge County asset. It’s not just a roadway.”
Key Biscayne Mayor Mike Davey said he has tentatively scheduled a special Village Council meeting for Sept. 30, and Levine Cava said her sunshine session might happen before that.
The meetings would be in advance of the upcoming County Commission meeting Oct. 5th where changes to the Rickenbacker bid specifications are on the agenda. In her letter, Regalado said several elements of the plan needed to be deleted, that Key Biscayne be given a chance to pursue its own solution, and that the deadlines be pushed back to March.
“We would prefer they pull the whole RFP back,” Davey said, using the shorthand for Request for Proposal. He said there are elements of the “Plan Z” concept that are positive, but that residents’ reactions had to be considered. “It created an inherent distrust of Plan Z,” Davey said.
During the interview, Levine Cava stressed that financing will be a major driver in how she makes her decision, and ordered a “value for money” analysis that is used to help governments decide whether to use a privatization model. The analysis is being done by IMG Rebel, which is looking at a mix of public and private borrowing options, federal and state grants, and toll and other revenue sources.
The funding question, along with the possible commercial use of Virginia Key, remain as major unknowns, not to mention the impact on a number of institutional stakeholders such as the University of Miami, MAST Academy, NOAA, and the Miami Seaquarium.
Revenue from increased tolls would seem to be problematic, with several County commissioners expressing opposition to large increases for the roadway that carries residents and millions of visitors to some of the state’s most popular beaches. As for commercial prospects on Virginia Key, the City of Miami has not publicly taken a position on the Causeway plan.
For park usage, there is also the interaction with the Matheson family, which has voting control over changes to Crandon Park. Two members of the Matheson family are listed as “Key Advisors” to the Plan Z group.
The Plan Z Consortium, which made the unsolicited proposal earlier this year, declined to comment, citing confidentiality rules. The confidential submission would compete with bids in the current RFP process, which is currently slated to end in December.
Regalado had convened Wednesday’s open meeting with County department heads, who were booed and heckled at times. She wrote to Levine Cava that because the roadway is the only transportation link to Key Biscayne, “extra engagement and consideration should be be given to their existential needs.”
Levine Cava said she thought the meeting was “very productive” and commended the letter.
“I completely agree with the concerns in her memo,” she said.
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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.