Downtown bridge openings broke rules
Written by Catherine Lackner on November 26, 2014
The battle of the bridge has been joined, directors of Miami’s Downtown Development authority learned Friday.
In September, authority chair and Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff alleged that tenders of bridges, including the Brickell Avenue Bridge, are breaching an agreement reached several years ago to keep bridges locked down during morning, lunch and evening rush hours. Authorities are putting the interests of the marine industry before those of commuters, he said. Board member Richard Lydecker, who is senior partner in the Lydecker-Diaz law firm, agreed his firm would look into the matter pro bono.
Last week, Alex Tirado-Luciano and Alan S. Feldman, an associate and a partner in that firm respectively, presented their report to the authority.
A statute that locks bridges down from 7:35 to 8:59 a.m., 12:05 to 12:59 p.m., and 4:35 to 5:59 p.m. is not being enforced, they said.
In surveying bridge-tenders’ logs on the Brickell Avenue, Miami Avenue and Southwest First Street bridges from July, August and September, they found numerous reports of bridges being opened for sailboats, sport-fisherman boats and other pleasure craft during the restricted times. Ships pushed or pulled by tugboats (such as freighters and barges), government vessels and boats in distress are exempted from the lockdown rule.
“There are one to 15 of these openings per month” on the Brickell Avenue Bridge alone, Mr. Tirado-Luciano said, and that bridge carries the majority of traffic downtown.
“Tell citizens what’s going on,” he urged, “and consider legal action against the vessel owners, the Coast Guard, the Florida Department of Transportation and Miami-Dade County’s waste management department.” The transportation department owns the Brickell Avenue and Miami Avenue bridges; the solid waste department owns the Southwest First Avenue bridge.
Those moves will be controversial, Mr. Sarnoff warned. After his initial comments, “I got a letter calling me all sorts of names,” he said.
In an Oct. 7 letter obtained by Miami Today, US Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wrote to Mr. Sarnoff, “I would like to remind you of the significant positive impact that our local Miami River’s maritime commerce industry has on our community’s economy and the severe detrimental impact that additional drawbridge closures would have on those who rely on this working waterway for their livelihoods…
“Appropriate and sensible access will ensure that our Miami River will continue to be a dependable asset for our community and our residents for years to come,” said Ms. Ros-Lehtinen’s letter in part, on which Rear Admiral John H. Korn, commander of the Coast Guard’s seventh district, and the Miami River Marine Group, were copied.
“Sooner or later we will need a tunnel,” said board member Alan Ojeda, who is president of Rilea Development Group. “Someone should do some numbers.”
“You’re absolutely right about a tunnel,” said board member Alicia Cervera, who is managing partner of Cervera Real Estate. Her company owns a boatyard on the Miami River, and she said there is confusion about bridge openings and closings. “They should be posted on all docks, like the warnings about manatees.”
“I don’t think we can take action against boat owners,” Mr. Lydecker said, “but we can train them and follow up to see if they follow the rules.”
There was doubt, especially among development authority board members who are boaters, whether the bridge-tenders’ logs were accurate.
“A lot of sport boats sneak in behind or in front of the tugs, so the tenders are not writing them down,” said board member Jose Goyanes, who is owner of Metro Beauty Center, Churchill’s Barbershop and Tre Italian Bistro. “Go get yourself a drink at the Epic Hotel and you’ll see how many times that bridge opens. You can even videotape it.” The hotel overlooks Biscayne Bay and the Brickell Avenue Bridge.
“We should do an audit on our own,” Mr. Sarnoff said. He also suggested a public information campaign. “Let’s create a really cool document, one the average Joe can read.”
Especially with downtown’s recent residential growth, “We’re pushing twice as many people through those bridges,” Mr. Lydecker said.
The authority board vowed to continue the fight to stop the bridges from opening during rush hours and will consider asking for additional midday bridge lockdown time, which Mr. Sarnoff said was promised but not delivered.