Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is recommending a five-year, $5 million study to kick off major changes to the Rickenbacker Causeway, including a planned replacement of the aging Bear Cut Bridge.
A county committee is scheduled to consider approval next week. The study is critical to getting environmental review of the projects.
Levine Cava’s administration selected Atkins North America, Inc. The Tampa-based firm was the top-ranked bidder out of eight that competed.
The study – called a “PD&E” – includes all the Causeway bridges — the short West Bridge that connects the mainland to Hobie Island, the tall William Powell bridge, and the 78-year-old Bear Cut that connects Virginia Key with Key Biscayne.
Another round of interim repairs just started for the Bear Cut, but engineers have voiced concerns the structure is vulnerable to major hurricanes. In fact, the Village has developed an emergency plan that calls for a temporary floating bridge to be swiftly deployed in the event a storm knocks out the Bear Cut.
In a memo, the administration said the PD&E study will look at both replacement options and refurbishment, although Levine Cava and Commissioner Raquel Regalado have said repeatedly the Bear Cut must be replaced.
“It appears the County is suggesting that there may be different options for each bridge,” said Village Manager Steve Williamson, whose administration has been working closely with the County to develop a shared vision.
The Village’s main goal is easing traffic bottlenecks – possibly with “express lanes” – as Virginia Key sees increasing use. Another priority is making sure structures are resilient with rising seas.
Major work involves detailed environmental studies that are required for federal funding, and County officials have noted sensitive nearby corals and sea grasses. Still, one aspect of the study will look at ways to accelerate the timetable of the environmental review, a process known as “NEPA.”
The replacement of the span is estimated to cost $90 million and – unless accelerated – could be a decade away.
The last repairs to the Bear Cut occurred in 2016. Joint, bulkhead and beam restoration, among other repairs, are expected to take about 11 months to complete. Work is being scheduled at night to minimize traffic disruptions, officials said.
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.