Miami-Dade County

Top-ranked I-395 'signature bridge' design has been picked, but you can’t see it just yet

An overhead view of Interstate 395 from 2003, when the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts was under construction.
An overhead view of Interstate 395 from 2003, when the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts was under construction. Miami Herald Staff

A team consisting of Atlanta-based and Miami contractors has won the top score in the bidding competition for the long-awaited reconstruction of Interstate 395, but those hankering for a look at a key piece of their proposal — the design for the promised “signature bridge” over Biscayne Boulevard — will have to wait a bit longer.

The Florida Department of Transportation is expected to greenlight the award of the $800 million project to the top-ranked team, a joint-venture team of Archer Western and The de Moya Group, at a May 1 public meeting, provided the group passes a financial review that’s now under way.

But the agency says the Archer Western proposal, which includes a design for the signature bridge, will remain under wraps until 72 hours after the meeting because of the state’s “cone of silence” rules. Those exempt competitive bidding from state public-records disclosure to protect the integrity of the bid process. A protest by one of the losing bidders could delay release beyond that.

The competition for the top ranking was razor-close. A five-person FDOT committee scored the design-build proposal developed by Atlanta-based Archer Western and Miami-based de Moya a half-point better than a competing plan from Fluor-Astaldi-MCM. A third bidder, Miami Community Builders, lagged 17 points behind the two leaders.

The project, scheduled to begin later this year, includes a total reconstruction of the functionally obsolete I-395 span from Interstate 95 to the MacArthur Causeway, a 1.4-mile stretch. It also encompasses a rebuilding of State Road 836 between I-95 and Northwest 17th Avenue and a redo of the 836 and I-95 interchange.

But the element that has drawn the most public attention, and some degree of controversy, is a requirement for an eye-catching elevated span and bridge for the Biscayne Boulevard crossing meant to serve as an icon of a resurgent Miami. The bridge would replace a low, dark 1960s overpass that critics say has contributed to blight in the area. The span brushes the Arsht Center and Museum Park, which includes the soon-to-open Frost Museum of Science and the Perez Art Museum Miami.

FDOT has touted the higher elevated span as a significant improvement because it would reopen Overtown streets closed by construction of the expressway while making acres of land beneath it available for use as public parks or open space. Those features are not part of the reconstruction project.

City leaders have pushed for the signature bridge element and sued when FDOT officials tried to back out of the idea. But some critics insist a better alternative for revitalizing the neighborhood was to replace the elevated expressway with a surface boulevard or a buried “cut.”