In an eagerly awaited report, a consulting firm suggests lower costs would result if the current $500 million plan to privatize the Rickenbacker Causeway is scrapped and a new competitive bidding process is started. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is convening a Dec. 6 public meeting to get input from residents and other stakeholders.
“It confirms a lot of what we have been saying,” said Key Biscayne Village Manager Steve Williamson. “We think this is backwards.”
The study by consulting firm IMG Rebel said a do-over of the bidding “allows for greater optimization of the project’s value for money” than trying to make adjustments to the current process, which is currently slated to conclude in March.
However, the consultants also wrote that the type of full privatization being sought by the County’s current Rickenbacker solicitation offered the best value for money, compared to a traditionally publicly-owned and run approach. It said that while construction costs might be lower with a public model, the full privatization approach offered better overall “value for money” when risks were added into the mix.
Key Biscayne Mayor Mike Davey said he hoped Levine Cava and the County Commission would heed the recommendation and start over. “This shows that there are serious doubts about the process.”
Key Biscayne officials are formally on record asking for a cancellation, saying the current privatization process was developed in secret and does not address critical Village concerns, particularly traffic. Residents have complained for years that events on Virginia Key often snarl their only way on and off the island of 15,000. Millions use the causeway to access state and County parks. Indeed, at Tuesday’s Village Council meeting, Council Member Ignacio Segurola moved to hire a law firm to possibly sue the County to stop the process, although he later withdrew it.
A major political factor remains possible toll increases. Several commissioners said they were opposed to large toll hikes. But in boldface type, the report authors wrote that “in the absence of significant federal funding, Rickenbacker Causeway revenues would need to increase substantially.”
The IMG Rebel report used a total capital cost assumption of $497.6 million, which includes a replacement of the Bear Cut Bridge and many of the cyclist-friendly enhancements of “Plan Z” from architect Bernanrd Zyscovich. It assumed $12.4 million in toll revenues.
Significantly, the report did not even discuss potential revenue from general obligation bonds, another possible revenue source. Such an option would pass costs to County taxpayers, and would require a referendum.
The finding did not surprise Vice Mayor Brett Moss. “I ran the numbers myself, and I could not figure out how it made sense.”
In a letter to the County Commission, Levine Cava acknowledged that “there are significant limitations with the procurement process regarding public engagement and communications,” and said she would use the Dec. 6 meeting to get additional input.
There was no immediate reaction from County commissioner Raquel Regalado, who succeeded in making some changes to the existing concept, nor from Commission Chair Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who helped develop the County’s privatization law.
Davey said Village leaders are committed to a new process. “I don’t believe we have to stop entirely,” he said, adding that a project that addresses island needs will get support.
“Let’s get going,” he 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.