Concerned about traffic congestion for the upcoming Sony Open tennis tournament, Miami-Dade County plans to open a fourth lane for vehicles on the bridge to Key Biscayne — by doing away with a walled-off pathway for pedestrians and joggers.
Pedestrians, joggers and cyclists, who have been asked to ride on the protected sidewalk ever since the county shut down part of the Bear Cut Bridge due to structural problems, will be forced to share the bridge’s northernmost lane, which remains closed to vehicles. The reconfiguration of the bridge, which connects Virginia Key to Key Biscayne, is expected to begin within two weeks.
The less-than-ideal scenario could eventually result in enough trouble for pedestrians and cyclists that the county may consider closing the bridge to those travelers altogether, public works administrators acknowledged. That would effectively restrict access to Crandon Park, until the bridge is repaired, for anyone who is not driving a car.
“We have to find a solution that works for the majority of the people,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez told The Miami Herald on Wednesday.
The decision to eliminate the pedestrian pathway comes after days of meetings between Gimenez’s brass, public works engineers and Florida Department of Transportation officials. The county had been urged by tennis tournament organizers and some on Key Biscayne to find an alternative to existing traffic restrictions on the bridge. Tournament organizers could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Miami-Dade shut down the bridge’s two westbound lanes earlier this month, after state and county inspectors found that steel beams holding up that portion of the roadway were too corroded to support heavy vehicles. The county later reopened one of the lanes to cars and motorcycles only, with trucks limited to traveling on an eastbound lane converted to westbound, heading out of Key Biscayne. A second eastbound lane into the island remains open to all traffic.
But even with three lanes available to cars, Gimenez said, Sony Open organizers told him Monday they were worried that buses shuttling players from hotels on the mainland and tournament fans from Virginia Key parking lots would clog the single lane into Key Biscayne — and hurt the tournament, which takes place in March. An engineer hired by the tournament suggested an alternative plan to open the bridge’s four lanes by bolting steel plates to the bridge’s exposed beams, reinforcing the westbound lanes to support heavy vehicles.
“That would be good enough for maybe two years, maybe three years, but then we’d have to do it over again,” Gimenez said. “My engineers weren’t crazy about that idea.”
That led to the county plan to get rid of the eight-foot-wide pedestrian path. County workers will remove the barrier wall that separates it from the car lanes, pave over that portion of the asphalt and re-stripe the pavement to create three lanes that meet the minimum, 11-foot width requirement, Interim County Engineer Antonio Cotarelo said.
The public works department also considered other alternatives, including restricting truck traffic twice a day during the tennis tournament. But that would have required temporary traffic barricades that would have to be moved twice a day, confusing drivers, Cotarelo said.