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Front Page » Top Stories » Key Biscayne A Bridge Divided

Key Biscayne A Bridge Divided

Written by on April 18, 2013

Even as a contractor for Miami-Dade County moves forward on $31 million in emergency repairs on the Bear Cut Bridge linking Key Biscayne to the mainland, the Village of Key Biscayne will do its own testing on the substructure of the bridge.

Miami-Dade commissioners agreed Tuesday to what Commissioner Barbara Jordan termed a "parallel review" by village engineers and the county’s work on repairing a bridge that commissioner after commissioner termed a hazard to users.

The village-commissioned engineers can start work after county Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the village sign an agreement allowing village inspection of the pilings that hold up the present bridge, which were placed in the mid-1940s.

Inspection of the pilings has been pushed by Commissioner Juan C. Zapata for months. He has stated a concern that the county might well spend $31 million on bridge repairs only to discover that the base it’s standing on won’t last long enough.

Under questioning by Mr. Zapata on Tuesday, the county’s overseer of the bridge project said of the repaired bridge, "We estimate that it will last up to 40 years."

Marcos Redondo, the section head of the Bridge Engineering, Highways Division of the county’s Public Works and Waste Management Department, also said that seeking inspection under the seabed of the pilings "is an extremely unusual" step.

Mr. Zapata had asked at the meeting for confirmation after Mayor Gimenez assured commissioners the contractor the county hired April 3, Kiewit Infrastructure South Co., which is to provide design-build services for the bridge, is also to inspect the pilings below the seabed.

Mr. Redondo replied that the county’s contract does not specify that under seabed inspection and that the county might have to pay Kiewit extra to make that inspection.

But while the contract does not require that inspection, Mr. Redondo said, the firm must certify that the structure is safe.

Mr. Zapata said that to him the question was whether to spend $30 million on a repair job or do a much more comprehensive job for the residents of Key Biscayne.

"I commend the Village of Key Biscayne coming forth to study what’s under the seabed" for a bridge built in the mid-1940s, Mr. Zapata said. Commissioner Xavier Suarez sponsored the resolution to allow the village to study the bridge pilings.

Mr. Zapata questioned Mr. Redondo on the bridge’s lifespan after repairs. Mr. Redondo said bridges are engineered to last 75 years, but many last far longer. The repairs, he estimated, will be good for 40 years.

"We’re under an extreme emergency condition," Mr. Redondo said. "The total closure of the older part [of Bear Cut Bridge for safety reasons] is a real possibility." The other half of the bridge is newer and reported in better condition.

Commissioner Jordan questioned what would happen if the Key Biscayne inspection reached different conclusions than an inspection the county has already received.

Mayor Gimenez told commissioners that the report commissioned by Key Biscayne should not differ from the study the county has already made of the bridge. Two qualified engineering firms, he said, should reach identical conclusions. If they differ, he said, he would assess the qualifications of the firms and reevaluate the course the county is now on.

"It’s what it is. Whatever it is, we have to deal with it," he said.

"It’s the safety of the residents" at issue, said commission Chair Rebeca Sosa.

Commissioner Dennis Moss, who said he had taken a boat ride to see the deterioration of the bridge, attested to the need to do repairs now and not wait to build a new bridge.

"There’s no doubt in my mind that we need to do something, and we need to do something quickly," Mr. Moss said.

Building a new bridge, he said, would take eight years. "In the meantime, you have to provide a path in and out for the residents and the visitors."

While a new bridge may be necessary, he said, the repairs should be made now. Any new bridge that might be needed later, he noted, would not come from general county funding but would be paid by tolls to use the Rickenbacker Causeway leading to the bridge. "We can’t wait eight years on a new bridge."

Those tolls were increased April 1 to create a funding stream for the repairs, which Mr. Gimenez said would be completed before next year’s Sony Open tennis tournament in about 11 months.

Kiewit was hired April 3. The commission action ratified that hiring while allowing Key Biscayne to inspect the site with the agreement to not disrupt work. The Key Biscayne inspection is to be completed within 60 days.

While Rickenbacker Causeway tolls are to pay for $28 million of the Kiewit contract, the remaining $3 million will come from the county’s Water Renewal Replacement Fund from the Water and Sewer Department, because a water main must be replaced in the process.

"As a result of the repair work, the existing water main attached to the section of both bridges that will be repaired needs to be relocated," Deputy Mayor Alina Hudak wrote in a memo supporting the Kiewit resolution. "The current water main was installed in 1968 and is nearing its life expectancy. The new pipe will also be increased in size from the current 12 inches to 16 inches," insuring pressure capacity for pipes leading to Key Biscayne.

The repair project, she wrote, will widen the bridge to provide dedicated lanes for pedestrians and cyclists on both sides of the bridge.

Weeks ago, Mr. Zapata asked Mayor Gimenez via memo to have the Florida Department of Transportation review engineering findings and plans before Miami-Dade committed to rebuild the surface of the Bear Cut Bridge.

"I continue to have concerns with the proposed plan to build a new bridge superstructure on a 69-year-old foundation that does not meet today’s engineering standards," Mr. Zapata wrote in that memo.

For the recent Sony Open on Key Biscayne, the county jerry-rigged a temporary route by running three lanes of traffic on the newer side of the Bear Cut Bridge leading into the Key and just one lane down the older side leading out of the island. That left drivers unaccustomed to the change driving both directions on the newer side.

Because causeway tolls are to pay for the bridge repairs, Mr. Zapata argued in his memo to the mayor, cost should not be the determining factor in whether the underpinning is replaced as well as the superstructure on the bridge.

"I don’t think that cost should be the motivating factor for determining whether to pursue the replacement of the superstructure and the substructure to meet today’s structural engineering standards," he wrote. "I believe the actual cost of building a new bridge if we bid the project out… More importantly, since the bonds to build this bridge can be financed through its own dedicated source of revenues [the bridge tolls], costs should not be the driving factor in dictating the course of action."

The county first voted Jan. 23 to make repairs now rather than replace the bridge.To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e-MIAMI TODAY, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.