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Miami-Dade to proceed with Bear Cut Bridge repairs

Miami-Dade will proceed with its plans to repair the Bear Cut Bridge connecting Virginia Key to Key Biscayne, after county commissioners on Tuesday unanimously ratified a $31 million contract for the year-long project with engineering firm Kiewit Infrastructure.

The board also unanimously approved a request by the Key Biscayne Village Council to hire an engineer at its own expense to review the bridge’s foundations. The village had hoped its review would delay the county’s proposed repairs, which critics say might not be the best fix for the aging bridge.

But commissioners agreed with County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who said he did not want to wait to replace the westbound portion of the bridge’s corroded exposed-steel beams, and that Key Biscayne’s examination could take place at the same time as the repairs.

“We need to fix this bridge now,” he said.

Gimenez added that “hopefully” the village’s engineer and contractor Kiewit, as it more closely examines the bridge to prepare for the repairs, will agree that the portion of the foundations buried under the sea bed can support new, concrete-encased beams and a wider roadway.

It is unclear what would happen if the two firms reach different conclusions. The county is under no obligation to accept Key Biscayne’s eventual findings; were the village to challenge Miami-Dade in court, Key Biscayne would have to prove that the county’s approach to the repairs is not sound engineering, a county attorney said.

Key Biscayne has budgeted $50,000 for an engineer. Village officials and a handful of residents attended Tuesday’s meeting but did not speak. No public hearing was scheduled.

The village has argued that the county should consider temporarily shoring up the beams and building an entirely new bridge in the long term. Gimenez, while saying a new bridge could be considered, has countered that the temporary fix is not a responsible solution because it might not hold long enough to give the county time to design, bid and build a new bridge, which the county says could take eight to 10 years to complete.

Commissioner Dennis Moss said Tuesday that he took a boat ride to look at the bridge damage firsthand.

“Something has got to be done,” he concluded, “and we can’t wait eight years on a new bridge.”

The county estimates the repairs will extend the life of the Bear Cut Bridge by 40 years. Similar repairs would also be done for the West Bridge immediately after the Rickenbacker Causeway toll plaza. The westbound portions of both bridges, which were built in 1944, have been partly shut down since January after state and county inspectors detected the widespread corrosion. The eastbound portions were added in the 1980s.

A county consultant could not determine the lifespan of the westbound foundations. As part of the repairs, Kiewit will have to reinforce the existing pilings holding up the bridge, and new ones will be added to support wider pedestrian and cycling lanes. The contract with Kiewit calls for construction to be completed by the time the annual Sony Open tennis tournament opens at the Crandon Park Tennis Center next spring.

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.