Key Biscayne

Miami-Dade commission to consider repairs to Bear Cut Bridge

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez will ask county commissioners Tuesday to sign off on a $31 million contract to repair the damaged bridge to Key Biscayne.

But there will almost certainly be resistance from the dais, with Commissioners Xavier Suarez and Juan C. Zapata urging colleagues to allow the island village to pay for its own engineer to examine the Bear Cut Bridge’s aging foundations. That review would likely require delaying the repairs proposed by Gimenez’s administration.

Two weeks ago, Gimenez approved a contract with Kiewit Infrastructure that requires commission ratification. But the Key Biscayne Village Council, which has loudly opposed the county’s fix and budgeted $50,000 for an engineering consultant, wants to wait.

“There hasn’t been enough thoughtful analysis” on the repairs, said Key Biscayne Vice Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay, who has been lobbying commissioners for support.

The administration has repeatedly denied that suggestion, saying county engineers have studied their options.

But Suarez, whose district includes Key Biscayne, and Zapata, who chairs the board’s infrastructure committee, apparently remain unconvinced. They have filed a separate item for Tuesday’s meeting seeking the additional engineering study on behalf of Key Biscayne.

On Monday, Key Biscayne emailed residents subscribed to a newsletter imploring them to attend Tuesday’s commission meeting, and offering a village bus to give 24 people a ride to County Hall. There is no public hearing scheduled.

The bridge, which connects Virginia Key to Key Biscayne, was partly shut down in January after the Florida Department of Transportation, which inspects the structure, and the Miami-Dade, which owns and maintains it, found extensive corrosion on the exposed steel beams under the westbound roadway.

The county’s public works department proposed repairing the bridge — and the similarly damaged West Bridge that lies immediately after the Rickenbacker Causeway toll plaza — by removing the roadway and replacing the beams, this time with new ones encased in concrete. The plans include widening the bridge for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The existing bridge foundations would remain — which has worried critics because the county doesn’t know the lifespan of the westbound pilings, built in 1944. An engineering consultant hired by Miami-Dade concluded in a report that the life expectancy of that portion of the bridge could not be determined. The eastbound half of the bridge was built in the 1980s.

The county estimates the repairs will extend the westbound bridge’s life by 40 years.

An online petition begun by a Key Biscayne resident requesting detailed information on the bridge’s condition — including inspection reports excluded from public disclosure under state law, to protect national security — had more than 600 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

The Key Biscayne council, persuaded by longtime Key resident Gene Stearns, has suggested an alternative to the repairs: temporarily reinforcing the beams and later building an entirely new bridge. Stearns, an attorney for the Sony Open tennis tournament held annually at the Crandon Park Tennis Center, has said he is campaigning for a new bridge on his own, and not as a tournament representative.

County engineers have countered that a temporary fix might not give Miami-Dade enough time to design, bid and build an entirely new bridge, which would require extensive studies and permits. They fear a short-term repair would fail before a new bridge is in place, putting the only road into and out of Key Biscayne at risk.

And putting off the proposed repairs could affect next year’s tennis tournament, according to the county.

“A delay to commence the necessary construction activities can further delay the existing restrictions to the use of the bridges, placing a significant and prolonged impact on its users,” Kathleen Woods-Richardson, director of the public works and waste management department, wrote in a memo to Gimenez.

The mayor has cited the Sony Open as a reason to back his administration’s repair plan. In its expedited bid issued under emergency conditions, the county required prospective contractors to finish construction in time for next spring’s tournament. The proposal from GLF Construction, one of the three firms that made the final stage of the bidding process, was not considered because it said the work could not be completed in that time.

The first-place bidder was Kiewit, with Munilla Construction Management placing second. The contract with Kiewit includes a termination clause if commissioners do not give it their stamp of approval.

The bulk of the funding for the project — $28 million — will come from bonds the county will issue backed by an increase to $1.75, from the current $1.50, in most causeway tolls. The remaining $3 million will come from the Water and Sewer Department to pay for a portion of the project that will require burying an above-ground water main under Biscayne Bay.

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