'Bridge to Nowhere?' Northwest 25th Street viaduct prospect brings surprise, anger
By Risa Polansky
A half-built viaduct above Northwest 25th Street could turn into Miami-Dade's own "bridge to nowhere," some elected officials fear.
The Airport West project, designed to trim cargo traffic by building a raised highway for trucks, is rising — but only part of it. And there's no money for the rest, even with federal stimulus aid en route.
Miami-Dade's Metropolitan Planning Organization board, which plans transportation, voted in February to make the second half of the viaduct priority No. 1 for state stimulus aid after being told that a state roads 826-836 interchange was fully funded. Turns out it's not.
A state Department of Transportation revenue estimating conference in late March revealed plummeting gas and documentary stamp tax collections and a $2 billion cut to the department's five-year work plan, which includes the interchange.
Doc stamp revenues collected on deed transfers, promissory notes and other documents involving debt were to fund $87 million of the $552 million interchange
The department made a snap call and decided — without the county board's input — to use federal stimulus funds to plug the hole rather than build the second phase of the viaduct project.
"We're trying to move these projects forward, but we're balancing that with the declining economic conditions that are affecting our work program and trying to get the most bang for our buck," said Alice Bravo, district director of transportation systems development. "And at the end of the day, with the 826-836 project, that project would not move forward without the stimulus funds, so with $90 million of stimulus funds we're leveraging a $550 million project that's going to have an economic impact of roughly 15,000 direct and indirect construction jobs."
Still, the move enraged some planning board members.
"This is a bridge that is going to be left in the middle of the air lingering up there as a reminder of failure of this community," said county Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz.
Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina stressed that federal relief dollars aren't meant to plug holes but to jumpstart projects such as phase two of the viaduct, which wasn't in the state's five-year plan.
Others accepted the shift.
"Things do change, and this has to do with adaptability," Homestead Mayor Lynda Bell said.
Ms. Bravo noted that more than $1 billion has been spent to prepare for the interchange.
But the viaduct is already under way, others argued, with the $115 million first phase to end late in 2011.
Yet some board members felt stuck. Though their organization can't control the state, the feds are asking states and planning boards to agree on stimulus projects. A dispute could jeopardize funding.
So, North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns said, "the writing's on the wall — we know were going to have to stick with the 836."
Still, Department of Transportation officials pledged to find a way to finish the viaduct.
"No one more than me," District Secretary Gus Pego said, would hate to see "a bridge to nowhere."