Some kind of "signature" bridge will be constructed to replace the elevated span of I-395 through Downtown Miami after all, Florida Governor Rick Scott said Tuesday, announcing $600 million in funding through the legislature.
The I-395 Reconstruction Project, which has been planned for years and mired in controversy since March, aims to replace the decrepit, blight-inducing span that currently carries traffic west from I-95 to the MacArthur Causeway.
But the bridge likely won't be the soaring "wishbone arches" suspension design finally chosen by a local committee that held more than 75 public meetings in an exhaustive selection process.
That group -- made up of city and county officials, businesses, residents, church leaders, and arts activists -- selected the $673 million wishbone design in early 2013 after years of discussion. Concerned over the way the current span's numerous support support pilings have sliced off parts of Downtown and Overtown, the committee wanted a "flying" suspension bridge that would also stop dividing and darkening the ground-level cultural hub that might otherwise be formed by the Arsht Center complex, Museum Park, and AmericanAirlines Arena.
They also wanted a bridge with a design striking enough to serve as the symbol of Miami.
"When you look at the spectacular potential of this district in the city, it’s just incredible. This is the picture that everyone will see of Miami," former mayor and selection committee member Manny Diaz told the Miami Herald in March. "It should be something special."
But citing a lack of funding, the Florida Department of Transportation slipped into the vote a cheaper, $559 million "segmental box" design with a heavy footprint. The 11th-hour move prompted Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff to file a lawsuit over the alleged "bait-and-switch" in attempt to force FDOT to build the bridge Miami had selected.
The lawsuit was settled a couple of weeks ago, FDOT District Secretary Gus Pego told The Huffington Post, and both sides have agreed to the $600 million budget.
"We had meetings with Commissioner Sarnoff to find a pathway forward; we jointly came up with the solution of an advisory committee that would review the options we feel we can deliver under the budget," he said. "If the design-build team comes in with a slightly different bridge, the committee will make sure it's in line with something that's inspiring."
The new advisory committee will consist of 5 individuals selected jointly by Pego and the city. Pego said they would likely include individuals representing the Arsht Center, Downtown Development Authority, City of Miami, and Miami-Dade County.
FDOT may consider several previous designs and solicit new ones, and Scott's statement said the agency was committed to building something "cost-effective." In lieu of details, the announcement was accompanied by statements of support from elected officials.
But Pego vows the project will hold to commitments specified in its environmental impact statement, namely that the bridge be "airy and light" underneath the structure, that it have a reduced number of support columns, and that it will be "pedestrian friendly."
In a statement to HuffPost, Sarnoff said he would push FDOT to built a bridge in keeping with the committee's expressed desires in the previous public process.
"From the City of Miami's perspective, our position is clear that FDOT needs to abide by the will of the people as expressed in the many charettes and other public meetings that were held regarding the signature bridge," he said. "We intend to be active participants in the newly formed committee and will continue to press the state to keep its word to the citizens of Miami and build a spectacular bridge to help heal the physical divide created by the past missteps of the federal government during the construction of the interstate highway."
According to Scott's office, FDOT will "seek appropriations from the Florida Legislature in the department’s Work Program" and work toward beginning construction in 2018.
Check out earlier designs below, including the suspension bridge previously selected: