MIAMI
03/06/2013 12:03 pm ET | Updated Mar 06, 2013

New I-395 Bridge Design Selected, But FDOT Miami Officials Suggest Cheaper Alternative (PHOTOS)

The Florida Department of Transportation has tossed a wrench into Miami's plans for an iconic, wishbone-arched "flying" bridge that could help revitalize Downtown.

The sleek, super-elevated span is meant to eventually replace the grim, structurally deficient I-395 bridge that rudely cuts off parts of Downtown and Overtown as it carries cars from I-95 past the Arsht Center to Biscayne Bay.

But though the soaring wishbone design was just selected by a high-powered advisory group from among five striking finalists in a lengthy public process, FDOT administrators surprisingly popped two more options into a presentation after the fact: a decidedly more dowdy "segmental box" option that costs $114 million less, and that same segmental bridge topped by a lotus-shaped "aesthetic viaduct" with cables. (See images below.)

County, city, and community officials who sat through 75 meetings to choose a finalist are reportedly furious with FDOT District Secretary Gus Pego, who told the Miami Herald he just wanted "people realize what the difference in cost is. My thought process is, ‘Why is this being thrown off the table?’ What I’m trying to do is, let’s get the dialogue going on how we can afford the project."

The catch, of course, is that neither the $673 million wishbone bridge nor any cheaper option can be built before more funding is acquired. Some funds will be available in 2021, but the project remains short on cash.

"We're looking at options that allow us to go to construction sooner," FDOT project manager Vilma Croft told The Huffington Post, noting that the remainder of the I-395 bridge -- the section over Biscayne Bay to South Beach -- is itself segmental, with supports at regular intervals.

But the project advisory group, which includes former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Overtown residents, Arsht Center representatives, and Miami and Miami-Dade County officials, is upset in part because they say the segmental box bridge doesn't correct problems with the current design. Built in the 1960s, the structure's many piers immediately sliced off parts of Downtown and Overtown, displacing residents and virtually ensuring economic blight and homeless encampments. The piers, "scars of urban renewal," also cut through the city's cultural hub, separating the Arsht Center from art and science museums and AmericanAirlines Arena -- and those institutions from the surrounding neighborhoods.

In contrast, the wishbone design's suspended 690-foot span would exponentially reduce the bridge's supports footprint through the neighborhood.

"FDOT’s plans for I-395 will play a critical role in Miami’s ability to reshape the urban core and reunite Downtown, Parkwest, Omni, and Overtown districts," writes Transit Miami's Gabriel Lopez-Bernal, adding, "Imagine what could become of the corner of N. Miami Avenue and 14th Street if the neighborhood were united with Downtown to the South or the Arsht Center to the east? The Citizens Bank Building, built during Miami’s boom years in 1925, could serve as a catalyst for growth in a neighborhood that has largely remained abandoned since urban renewal gutted Overtown."

Then there's the group's desire for something iconic, a bridge that symbolizes the district's resurgence and Miami's bright future.

"This is the picture that everyone will see of Miami," Diaz told the Herald. "It should be something special."

Croft told HuffPost that "at this time all options are viable. We know that the advisory group supports the wishbone, but at this point the project isn't funded -- so we're looking at options and tyring to fund the project for construction."

Curbed Miami points out that potential problems with the project go beyond the complaints of the project advisory group: "...In this debate about what kind of big new highway to build on top of the crumbling old one, nobody has mentioned anything about mass transit," writes editor Sean McCaughan. "Pity."

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