Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade urges Florida to postpone awarding $800 million redo of I-395 project

The winning selection for Miami’s I-395 “signature bridge,” as determined by a panel selected by the Florida Department of Transportation. The scoring is in dispute.
The winning selection for Miami’s I-395 “signature bridge,” as determined by a panel selected by the Florida Department of Transportation. The scoring is in dispute. Florida Department of Transportation

Miami-Dade commissioners asked Florida to halt the awarding of an $800 million contract to redo Interstate 395 in order for elected officials and residents to weigh in on the proposed designs.

The unanimous Tuesday vote adds the weight of the county government to the ongoing debate about whether Florida’s Transportation Department erred in narrowly picking one construction consortium over another for a project aimed at remaking the highway dividing Miami’s Overtown neighborhood.

Florida agreed to let local leaders help pick the design of a “signature bridge” overpass by the Adrienne Arsht performing arts center, but selected the proposal that received lower scores from the local panel. The state also declined to release the competing designs until after the May 12 vote, citing confidentiality provisions in procurement rules.

Sally Heyman, sponsor of the resolution urging Florida to postpone handing winner Archer Western the contract, said the state should be more interested in hearing from the public.

“They’re asking for the public input,” Heyman said. “Why not respect it?”

The fight for one of the richest contracts available in Miami-Dade pitted Archer Western, represented by the influential Ballard lobbying firm, against a consortium that includes Munilla Construction, a leading donor in county races. Miami-Dade’s mayor issued a letter questioning the scoring that favored Archer Western, while Miami’s mayor issued one backing the process that put the Munilla group in second place.

Representatives of the Archer Western team see the complaints as an effort by political leaders favorable to the Munilla group to undo a selection process that followed well-established rules. “While everyone has the right to be critical of the bridge design itself,” said Brian May, a lobbyist with Floridian Partners also representing Archter Western, “they do not have the right to change, or conveniently revise, the facts surrounding the [selection] process.”

The Miami-Dade commission’s resolution carries no authority beyond instructing the county’s lobbyists to press Florida to change course. Miami-Dade is not contributing money to the project.

Heyman’s resolution urges Florida to postpone awarding the contract until the 13-member commission can review the proposals and offer comments. The commissioner also said she wants the Metropolitan Transportation Organization, a board of county and city officials, to weigh in on the plans.

State transportation officials have declined to address the criticism publicly, citing the ongoing procurement process.

On Wednesday afternoon, Freddy Balsera, whose Coral Gables lobbying and public relations firm is working for the team that includes Munilla, Fluor, Astaldi and other firms, released a statement for the group that said an iconic, innovative bridge was a key component of the project. “The Fluor-Astaldi-MCM Team welcomes the opportunity to show our concept to the general public and local stakeholders,” the statement said.