A review of Miami-Dade County records has revealed that, during the past several years, the County has been using Rickenbacker Causeway toll revenues on other projects, while largely ignoring Rickenbacker maintenance and capital improvement needs. This has resulted in an “emergency” situation involving the Rickenbacker’s “West” and “Bear Cut” Bridges.

Now, the same County insiders who caused the “emergency” are attempting to dictate a “solution” developed behind closed doors, which is contrary to the interests of the public. Despite growing opposition from inside and out, the County is pushing ahead with a $31 million experimental plan to “rehabilitate” the West and Bear Cut Bridges by installing a new concrete roadbed and beam structure on the existing 70 year-old foundations which are nearing the end of their useful lives, and installing concrete “jackets” on the pilings which show cracking.

CBS4 Reporter David Sutta revealed that Miami-Dade County officials knew as early as five years ago that the Bear Cut Bridge “was corroding away,” but did nothing to address the most crucial problems. The County ignored the fact that the portion of the bridge constructed in 1944 has steel beams which “have corroded away down to nothing,” and the pilings “are not far behind.” The County chose to address only the portion of the bridge constructed in 1985, which had cracked pilings, but even then made only superficial repairs. They put concrete “jackets” around nearly three dozen cracked pilings, without addressing the problem which caused the cracking in the first place.

Key Biscayne Village Council Member Mayra Peña Lindsay thinks the County’s plan was flawed from the beginning. “I thought it was absurd to start and pick a plan without inspecting the bridge properly, without knowing what lurked, what the options were, what the issues were, what the lifespan of the foundations were because I thought it was all relevant to a cost benefit analysis.”

Miami Dade County Commissioner Juan Zapata questions the County’s entire plan. “My big issue with this was look, what’s underneath the surface? We don’t know. The County didn’t know. They really didn’t tell us. They weren’t forthcoming with information. To me it doesn’t make sense to throw $31 million as a project not knowing how long that substructure is going to hold up.”

Miami Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez stated that the County suggested that conducting a study on the structural integrity of the 70 year-old foundation would be a bad idea because doing so might create liability. “On this matter I am particularly troubled by the fact that the County attorney, and I won’t mention names, indicated to us that it was dangerous to allow the Village of Key Biscayne to do its own inspection to conduct its own inspecting, because somehow that could increase the liability. I said wait a minute, having more information reduces our liability if it turns out this thing cannot withstand a 100 year hurricane.”

On Tuesday April 16, 2013, at Mayor Gimenez’ behest, the County Commission voted to ratify a construction contract for the aforementioned “rehabilitation” plan. Then, a few minutes later, the County Commission approved a resolution giving the Village of Key Biscayne 60 days to employ independent engineers to offer opinions on the condition of the existing bridge pilings and other substructure.

FIU Engineering Professor Azizinamini says that fast tracking a new bridge to replace Bear Cut Bridge would be the smart thing to do. He says it’s like deciding whether to buy a new car or an old car: “I can buy an old car, and it’s cheaper, but I have no idea what the previous owners have done.” He says, in this case, no one can really know “what nature has done to [the bridge].” He also says there is more than enough time to build a new bridge. He believes the current bridge “has about 5 more years,” which is sufficient “to get a new bridge done.”

We should be starting that process now, not spending $31 million on a controversial plan to put a new top on a 70 year-old foundation which has largely withered away and has an uncertain life expectancy. We need to get off that foundation, and onto new bridges, as soon as humanly possible.

We should also be pushing for the creation of a new independent Rickenbacker Causeway Authority, with control over Rickenbacker toll revenues. We need to ensure that Rickenbacker toll revenues are used for Rickenbacker needs, and that problems are dealt with competently — so we never find ourselves in this situation again.

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For a Summary of the Current Status of the Bear Cut Bridge, Click Here.