Key Biscayne residents and council members pelted Miami-Dade officials with questions Tuesday night about the recent decision to limit traffic on the westbound side of the bridge that provides the only land route on or off the island.
The county closed the westbound lanes of the Bear Cut Bridge on Jan. 4, after state inspectors found badly rusted steel beams. On Wednesday, the county reopened one of the westbound lanes for cars and motorcycles, but heavy trucks must use a reversed lane on the eastbound side to leave the island .
Meanwhile, at Tuesday’s Village Council meeting, residents told Interim County Engineer Antonio Cotarelo, and Causeways Division Chief Michael Bauman that the situation was a crisis for the island village.
Cotarelo said the bridge, which is part of the Rickenbacker Causeway, is beyond repair. Repairs would cost $5 million and only extend the lifespan an additional five years. Cotarelo said, “we’ve concluded at this point that the best option is to go ahead and replace the superstructure of the bridge, which should give this bridge a 70 year lifespan.”
The county is figuring out how much it will cost to rebuild the bridge and how to pay for it, but tolls gathered at the beginning of the Rickenbacker Causeway are expected to cover at least part of the cost.
Construction will begin April 1, just after the annual Sony Open tennis tournament at Crandon Park Tennis Center on Key Biscayne. Cotarelo said that even with working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the project will take nine months. That’s the fastest the bridge can be rebuilt, Cotarelo said.
Bauman said, “We really are a three prong approach. One is to make things easier on you folks now. Second is to plan for the tennis tournament and the third is to get construction underway as quickly as possible.”
Council members expressed concerns, echoed by residents, about limiting the causeway to what is now three lanes of traffic for the next 12 months.
Vice Mayor Lindsay Penya said, “Our concerns are hurricane seasons and emergency evacuation. Our emergency access, fire rescue access on the weekends, which needs to be worked on and I’m sure you’re working on it.”
Resident David Rocker suggested installing pontoon bridges to ease traffic. Cotarelo said temporary structures would pose safety issues.
Rocker reiterated a point many residents and council members brought up about the safety and speed issues inherent in the heavy bicycle traffic on the causeway. Bicyclists are legally entitled ride with traffic as in Florida they are considered vehicles. This does not, however, allow them to travel slower than car traffic in the same lanes. Rocker said that this is a crisis situation and bicyclist need to share the responsibility for keeping traffic moving as quickly and safely as possible.
New council member Theodore Holloway asked the county to make communication with residents a high priority. While the village has had extensive communication and multiple meetings with officials since the damage was found, residents have been unable to voice complaints and offer suggestions.
Cotarelo and Mayor Franklin Caplan offered a variety of options for opening the flow of communication between residents and officials. These included a designated question and answer section on either the county’s or village’s website, or an email address and phone number for questions and complaints. The possibility of traffic cameras streamed online to enable drivers to judge the traffic before attempting the bridge is being considered.
Cotarelo assured residents and council members that he can attend regular council meetings to provide updates and answer questions as the process continues.
The next council meeting will be Jan. 22 at 7 p.m.. in the Council Chambers located at 560 Crandon Blvd, behind the Fire Station.