Key Biscayne

SunPass debuts on causeways to Key Biscayne, Miami Beach

A 2013 nighttime shot of the Bear Cut Bridge connecting Virginia Key to Key Biscayne.
A 2013 nighttime shot of the Bear Cut Bridge connecting Virginia Key to Key Biscayne. EMILY MICHOT

Drivers will no longer be scrounging for change to cross two bridges to Key Biscayne and Miami Beach.

Electronic tolling is scheduled to debut at 10 p.m. Tuesday on the Rickenbacker and Venetian causeways. Vehicles without SunPass transponders will by tolled by their license plate, at a higher rate per trip. Old C-Pass transponders will no longer be accepted.

The Miami-Dade County Commission insisted on the switch to SunPass, used on the Florida Turnpike and other highways, from C-Pass, used only on the two causeways, after signing off on costly repairs to deteriorated portions of the Rickenbacker to Key Biscayne. Those fixes were completed last month. Improvements to the Venetian to Miami Beach are slated next.

Commissioners had to hike most tolls to $1.75 from $1.50 last year to finance $34 million in bond debt for the upgrades to the 1,200-foot Bear Cut Bridge, which connects Virginia Key to Key Biscayne, and to the small West Bridge, the structure that immediately follows the Rickenbacker toll plaza. The elected officials said they could only justify doing so if they also made it easier for drivers to cross the bridge with SunPass.

Construction work wrapped up in August, behind schedule and slightly over budget due to unforeseen delays and additional work requested by the county — which means Miami-Dade, and not its contractor, must bear the additional expense.

So far, commissioners have authorized nearly $33 million in public works funds for the project, with a final request for more funds pending. Another $3 million came out of the water and sewer department to move a water pipe from under the roadway.

Antonio Cotarelo, chief engineer of Miami-Dade’s public works department, said the county is still negotiating the size of that request with contractor Kiewit Infrastructure.

“It should not be high at all,” he said.

Factored into those negotiations are additional costs for aligning drains, fixing previously unidentified concrete spalling and widening a traffic lane on the bridge earlier this year during the annual Crandon Park tennis tournament until recently known as the Sony Open.

Earlier delays were caused, among other things, by the discovery of asbestos in an electrical-wiring tube.

Miami-Dade shut down half of Bear Cut Bridge in January of last year following a finding of extensive corrosion on exposed steel beams holding up the road. The beams and road deck had to be replaced on the northern spans of both the Bear Cut and West bridges, which were built in 1944.

Southern spans built in the 1980s did not have similar problems, though the repairs also included adding support to pilings under those bridge portions.

The county estimates the upgrades will extend the life of the bridges by about 40 years. Commissioners and Mayor Carlos Gimenez have endorsed building a separate, entirely new Bear Cut Bridge sooner rather than later; government planners say it could take a decade once funding is identified.

Repairs were scheduled to be over by this year’s tennis tournament, now called the Miami Open, in mid-March.

A symbolic ceremony to celebrate the completion of the repairs is tentatively scheduled for next month.

Toll rates

Rates for two-axle vehicles on the Rickenbacker and Venetian causeways are:

▪ $1.75 per trip using SunPass

▪ $2.25 per trip, plus a monthly adminsitrative fee of $2.50, using toll-by-plate.

▪ Annual plan holders will continue to have discounted rates but must link their SunPass transponders to their causeway toll plans.

For more information, call the Miami-Dade County Causeways Division at 305-854-2468, email tolls@miamidade.gov or visit www.miamidade.gov/publicworks

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