Miami officials really, really want a signature bridge soaring over Downtown -- and put in years of work to make it happen.
So did community leaders, residents, area businesses, church officials, and arts advocates, who endured a drawn-out selection process with more than 75 public meetings to finally settle on a $673 million flying "wishbone" bridge design last month.
But the process exploded into controversy when Florida Department of Transportation officials suggested a cheaper option at the 11th hour -- and on Monday Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff announced they have filed a lawsuit over the alleged "bait-and-switch" in attempt to force the Florida Department of Transportation to build the city the bridge it selected.
“The original FDOT plans that I and my colleagues supported were an important step to helping rebuilding and reconnect our Miami communities, and we are asking the court to simply order the FDOT to keep its promise to the people of Miami," Regalado said in a statement. (See the designs below.)
The I-395 Reconstruction Project, which has been planned for years, aims to replace the decrepit span that currently carries traffic past the Arsht Center to the MacArthur Causeway. The advisory panel had only just voted on the wishbone bridge when FDOT District Secretary Gus Pego suggested a decidedly more dowdy "segmental box" option, infuriating those involved.
"It is the classic bait-and-switch case," Sarnoff told the Daily Business Review.
The lawsuit, which was filed against the FDOT and FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad, demands no monetary damages but instead asks the court to force FDOT to "honor its obligations and enjoins it from any action that would be contrary to its promises," according to a press release.
FDOT project manager Vilma Croft told The Huffington Post last week that the segmental box option, which would only cost $559 million, was suggested because there is no complete funding for the wishbone arch design.
But the cheaper version isn't fully funded, either -- and city officials aren't happy with the prospect of building another segmental box bridge, which doesn't solve social and economic issues prompted by the current span of I-395. The structure's many support piers sliced off parts of Downtown and Overtown when it was built roughly 50 years ago, displacing residents and leading to economic blight and unsightly homeless encampments. The bridge also cuts through the city's cultural hub, something the 690-foot span of the wishbone bridge would only do twice.
Croft insisted last week that the segmental bridge is similar to the wishbone arch, though the segmental bridge would have regular piers underneath -- a talking point which seems to particularly rankle Sarnoff.
"They are saying this is the signature bridge and this is the one you support," Sarnoff told the Review. "They are actually lying to organizations that may not know better."
Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz criticized FDOT's move last month to the Miami Herald.
"This is something for the next hundred years," Diaz said. "And I think we deserve what we agreed to, what the community supported after innumerable public hearings. 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. It should be something special."