Upgrade of 12-bridge Venetian Causeway?
Even before the summer accident in which a bus fell partially through and made a hole on a Venetian Causeway bridge deck, the Florida Department of Transportation had been looking into how to upgrade the causeway, a chain of 12 bridges that connect Miami with Miami Beach.
The causeway has structural deficiencies such as cracks and corrosion. Indeed, six of the causeway’s westernmost bridges have a 2014 sufficiency rating of less than 50, a state threshold for repairs.
The state department of transportation is studying to what extent the causeway might be upgraded. Officials might recommend an entire replacement of at least some of the bridges or, as a milder alternative, reconstruction of the causeway to bring it up to modern standards.
The latter alternative would basically “make sure the bridges stand up to how we would design the bridges today,” said Dat Huynh, project manager at the state transportation department.
For example, the sidewalks now are four feet wide. Rehabilitation would bring them up to five feet by reducing the vehicles lane by a foot.
Any recommendation to do upgrades on the causeway would come after public input from nearby residents and stakeholders.
Before work begins, the community would probably heavily scrutinize a construction alternative. That’s because the causeway has historic designation and too much reconstruction might remove the elements that qualified the causeway as historic.
“From my understanding, everyone likes to see the bridges look the same,” Mr. Huynh said. “But the look and the historic designation are two different things. Just because the bridge looks the same, it may not still meet the eligibility for its historic designation, because other characteristics may have changed or a majority of the bridge may have changed.”
In 1989, the Venetian Causeway was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1926, the Venetian is Florida’s oldest causeway.
Some of its historic characteristics include the arched form of the superstructure, the railings and the light poles.
According to the National Register of Historic Places, an owner of a historically designated structure may do as he wishes with the structure as long as no federal money is used.
Mr. Huynh said that if future work is done on the causeway, federal money might be requested. In that case, the federal government says that an Advisory Council on Historic Preservation would have to comment on the work planned for the Venetian Causeway.
Records indicate that any construction alternatives explored for the causeway’s rehabilitation – the milder alternative as opposed to complete reconstruction – are to be done so as to maintain the causeway’s spot in the National Register.
However, if officials decide to entirely replace bridges on the causeway, then the structure probably will lose its historic designation.
Mr. Huynh pointed out that bridges in Miami have in the past been repaired to an extent where they’ve lost a historic designation.
“The Southwest First Street bridge, that was historic but after it was replaced, it’s no longer on the national register,” he said.
In evaluating alternatives for the Venetian Causeway, the state department of transportation is trying to pinpoint those that would have minimal impact on marine life.
The department might also recommend a ‘no-build’ alternative, which means no repairs will be done on the causeway except for annual maintenance that’s already being done, Mr. Huynh said. That includes maintenance of the machinery that opens and shuts the bascules, a paint job and patching up the concrete.
The Florida Department of Transportation’s Project Development and Environment study costs $2.8 million, half of which is funded by Miami-Dade County and the other half by a grant to the county.
Miami-Dade has jurisdiction over the causeway but the state is doing the study because the state would have the potential to facilitate federal funding for causeway construction in the future.
As for the summer accident where the bus made a hole on the westernmost bridge deck of the causeway, the damage has been patched – at least for now.
“The county put metal plates on top of the deck because of the bus that fell through. They just put a temporary fix right now,” Mr. Huynh said. “They are planning to look at a design-build contract to look for replacement of that westernmost section.”