Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday the early stages of an agreement with the city of Miami in which the state will put up $600 million to reconstruct the Interstate 395 overpass and bridge that connects the mainland to Watson Island and Miami Beach.
Speaking briefly at a Coalition of Miami-Dade Chambers function at PortMiami, the governor said construction could begin by 2018, but didn’t go into details on the project, referring to it only as a “signature bridge.”
Scott said the Florida Department of Transportation will seek funding to build the bridge from the Legislature, and listed a group of South Florida state lawmakers who support the initiative, including Sen. René García and Reps. Eddy Gonzalez and Manny Diaz.
“In partnership with the city of Miami we have developed a path forward in erecting the bridge,” Scott said.
Scott’s announcement comes on the heels of an agreement reached last week between Miami and the Florida Department of Transportation. In March, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Commission Chair Marc Sarnoff sued state transportation officials to stop them from considering a plain-vanilla plan for the new I-395 overpass. They argued FDOT’s stripped-down plan broke a public promise to build a dramatic suspension bridge, known as the Wishbone Arch, that would gain worldwide recognition.
The new agreement calls for the state to increase spending on the bridge from $550 million to $600 million. It also calls for a five-member advisory panel to study plans on how the bridge should be built, and ultimately give a recommendation. FDOT District Secretary Gus Pego and Miami Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo would sit on the panel and choose the three other members.
Some city leaders said Tuesday they were unaware Scott had sent out media invitations announcing the beginnings of a new plan, but welcomed it.
Sarnoff, whose district includes the bridge, said the goal of the lawsuit was to get FDOT away from building a segmented bridge and build a new one that is tall enough so that walking under it isn’t such a dark, dank experience.
“You have to have enough height so sunshine can get under there,” said Sarnoff.
Rebuilding the bridge that juts out from the mainland between the old Miami Herald building and the new museums being erected at Bicentennial Park has been a sensitive issue for city leaders for well over a decade. Urban planners say the low-hanging noisy structure that now straddles Biscayne Boulevard inhibits, and even scares, pedestrians from walking from the performing arts center to AmericanAirlines Arena and the new restaurants and condos that line the boulevard. It’s even more important to renovate the highway, they say, now that the museums are being built.
The city’s goal is to spur even more development along fast-growing Biscayne Boulevard and to mitigate social and economic damage done to Overtown by the construction of the original bridge, which tore through the community. The March lawsuit was filed after the city heard from residents at more than 75 community meetings.
County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who attended Tuesday’s function, said that as far back as 2001, when he was Miami’s city manager, a plan for creating a “signature bridge” was on the table. Former Mayor Manny Diaz toyed with the idea of reconstructing the bridge below street level.
An earlier version of this article misstated Eddy Gonzalez’s title. He is a state representative, not a senator.