Op-Ed

Sarnoff: FDOT pulled a bait-and-switch on Interstate 395 bridge

A rendering of the winning design proposed for the I-395 bridge in downtown Miami.
A rendering of the winning design proposed for the I-395 bridge in downtown Miami.

Is it any wonder why so many South Florida citizens don’t trust Tallahassee technocrats?

First, the state destroys the once-proud Overtown neighborhood by bisecting it with an interstate highway back in the 1960s. Then, state bureaucrats tell us they are going to replace the atrocity of the Interstate 395 bridge in downtown Miami with something equally terrible, reopening the wound gouged into historic Overtown.

Then, after a handful of citizens sued, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) relented and agreed to build a “signature” bridge that would make our entire community proud. That promise was enshrined in a settlement agreement assuring that Miamians would get to determine the appearance of an iconic structure that would help define our community.

But after several years of hard work by a local Aesthetic Review Committee appointed for this purpose, FDOT pulled a bait-and-switch maneuver that weighted the decision in favor of FDOT bureaucrats. That cynical move nullified our local citizens’ input and ignored their overwhelming preference.

The winning design selected by FDOT didn’t even survive the first round of review by the Aesthetic Review Committee, and only made it into final consideration after FDOT first changed the rules and lowered the bar to allow a lesser-scored design into the final consideration set.

FDOT then put a thumb on the scale to tip the balance away from the aesthetic design favored overwhelmingly by our local representatives and give the decision to the Tallahassee technocrats, changing the rules in the process to effectuate the outcome. In the end a new wall will be put in place of the old wall, Overtown will remain separated under the chosen plan while the Aesthetic Review Committee plan takes down all barriers and walls creating a seamless community as opposed to separate and apart.

Why did FDOT go through a years-long charade of inviting community involvement and soliciting community comments, only to ignore the voice of the community?

Before the existing roadway was inflicted on it, Overtown was a thriving community. The highway put an end to that, seemingly forever. However, the settlement agreement brought new hope for an elevated “signature” bridge that would reconnect Overtown with the nearby arts district and heal the scar that was inflicted by FDOT in the first place.

That’s part of the reason the project qualified for significant federal dollars, which are paying for more than half the total project cost after a grueling 10-year analysis. It’s supposed to right an old wrong by allowing the local community to make its own choice about a design that will become an enduring icon of Miami.

Instead, state bureaucrats pulled a fast one with FDOT math that made the work and voice of our local community representatives meaningless.

During almost a decade of service on the Miami City Commission, I repeatedly saw the benefit of listening to the voice of local residents when making decisions that would shape the look and feel of our community.

It is outrageous that the state would break its promise to Miami again. Our community has spoken. It’s time for FDOT to listen.

Marc Sarnoff is a former Miami city commissioner.

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