Downtown Miami

Buckle up for The Mother of all highway construction projects. It’s about to start

Fasten your seatbelts, Miami, it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride. Gird yourself. Learn how to meditate in your car. Stock up on podcasts. Or, better yet, leave town for four years.

The Mother of all highway construction projects commences Monday with the initial stage of the $800 million redesign of Interstate 395, which will encompass significant stretches of I-95 and State Road 836.

Expect a clusterjam, with three highways that feed downtown Miami, Miami Beach and the Civic Center area torn up. A signature bridge that resembles a high-tech tarantula will be built over Biscayne Boulevard. A double-decker span will vault over I-95 to the MacArthur Causeway. Brace for lane closures, street closures and exit closures.

While the Florida Department of Transportation, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and their contractors will try to minimize disruption, pain is guaranteed in perpetually clogged South Florida, where orange and white barricades are as much a part of the scenery as palm trees.

But by the time the ambitious rearrangement is completed in fall 2023 — want to bet on that deadline? — a beautiful mile-long pathway, artsy plazas, green gardens and 30 acres of urban parkland will replace the blighted, cave-like space crouching beneath I-395 that became an encampment for homeless people and opioid addicts. Overtown, once the “Harlem of the South,” will be rid of the suffocating overpasses and embankments that ripped through the neighborhood in the 1960s and left a sun-deprived wasteland of concrete columns. The city’s cultural gems —the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Frost Science Museum and Perez Art Museum — will be better connected to each other, Museum Park and the waterfront. In theory, it will be easier to get in and out of downtown and to traverse the choked, messy interchange, although there’s little doubt the new roadways will induce more traffic.

Surveying and geotechnical testing that involves driving exploratory test piles along I-395 is underway, according to FDOT spokesperson Oscar Gonzalez.

Starting Monday, three lanes on southbound I-95 from Northwest 29th Street to Northwest 17th Street will be closed nightly for road survey work. Two lanes will be closed from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. and the third lane will be closed from 10 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Additional lane closures will occur on I-95 during off-peak hours for median construction to accommodate the extension of the existing auxiliary lane to Northwest 29th Street.

By March or April, major foundation work for the signature bridge will begin in the area of Northeast 12th Street between Biscayne Boulevard and Northeast 2nd Avenue. The section of Northeast 12th Street between the Boulevard and Northeast 2nd Avenue will be closed. Traffic will be re-routed to Northeast 13th Street, which will be widened to three lanes between the Boulevard and Northeast Second Avenue.

At the same time, widening work on SR 836 around Northwest 17th Avenue will start in preparation for the construction of the double-decked section of 836.

Rendering of the double-decked portion of SR 836 over the Miami River. FDOT

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The defining element of the reconstruction project is the six-arched, 1,025-foot suspension bridge, lit with programmable LEDs, which is meant to recall a spouting fountain. The runner-up design, favored by a local panel during the controversial selection process, featured a pair of support pylons evoking dancers on the threshold of the Arsht Center.

The 1.4-mile-long 395 expressway will be split into two elevated spans, one going east and the other west, both situated slightly north of where it is now. Only a quarter of the 440 support columns will exist when it’s finished. Eastbound off-ramps at Northeast Second Avenue will be moved west to North Miami Avenue and westbound on-ramps at Northeast First Avenue will be shifted west to North Miami Avenue.

The double-decking of 836 will start west of the Miami River near the toll gantry with an elevation of 60 feet as it approaches Overtown. The viaduct will allow drivers to bypass the midtown interchange and its ramps and continue east to Watson Island and Miami Beach. The hope is that the existing 836 on the lower level will allow drivers to enter and exit from local roads and I-95 and reduce the dangerous “weaving movements” of drivers trying to maneuver into their desired lanes. The eastbound 836 ramp to northbound I-95 will get an additional lane to reduce congestion.

I-95 improvements include replacement of pavement. An auxiliary lane will be added along northbound I-95 from north of Northwest 17th Street to Northwest 29th Street to receive the additional traffic from the eastbound 836 ramp and enhance traffic flow through the interchange.

The scope of the project will make coordinating closures a complicated task with domino effects on surrounding streets. So take deep breaths. Keep an eye on the website. And kick yourself for not getting into the road construction business.

signature bridge mcm (3).jpg
This design by the MCM group for a “signature bridge” on I-395 over Biscayne Boulevard that would have been suspended from pylons that resemble dancers was not selected by FDOT, although it was favored by a local panel. Miami Herald file