Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez appeared at the Key Biscayne Village Council meeting on Thursday to defend his plans for a $31 million repair to the Bear Cut Bridge connecting the island village with Virginia Key.
The westbound side of the bridge has been closed since early January, when inspectors found severe rust on the bridge’s steel beams and girders. Westbound traffic is now sharing the eastbound side of the bridge.
Gimenez and the county commission have approved emergency repairs, which are expected to take almost a year. The repairs will be paid for from Rickenbacker Causeway tolls.
But Eugene Stearns, an attorney and longtime Key Biscayne resident, recently proposed temporary repairs, which he says could be completed in a matter of weeks, and “buy time for a more complete and permanent solution” in the form of a new bridge. The new bridge would separate local traffic from travelers crossing the bridge, according to a written proposal Stearns has circulated to county officials and village leaders.
“The County is, instead, embarking on a poorly-conceived course of action, which will waste millions of dollars, preserve existing design deficiencies, and fail to provide adequate access to some of the most important and popular public lands and facilities in all of South Florida,” Stearns wrote.
At Thursday’s meeting, village residents spoke in support of Stearns’ plan.
"You have lost the Key Biscayne backing on this issue," resident Carlos de la Cruz, told the mayor. "We have a different lifestyle now than we did 40 years ago, but the bridge still remains the same. It is obsolete for our needs. I urge you sincerely, Mr. Mayor, and in good faith, to reconsider your decision and take a different tack."
In a unanimous vote, the council approved a resolution to continue to urge Miami-Dade County to look over the "merits or detriments of and cost-benefit considerations" associated with the quicker Bear But Bridge repair solution.
But Gimenez said Stearns’ plan wouldn’t work.
“Any new bridge would take 8 to 10 years to complete,” Gimenez told the council. “We don’t know if the quick fix is going to last the amount of time it would take us to create a new bridge.”
The mayor added that county engineers don’t think Stearns’ proposed temporary repairs would be effective.
“It would be irresponsible for the county to suggest such a solution when the outcome is not only unpredictable but could also be perilous to all those travelling over the bridge,” Gimenez said.