The structural problems on the Venetian Causeway’s westernmost bridge mean part of the bridge must be demolished and replaced, Miami-Dade County’s top engineer told the Venetian Way Neighborhood Alliance Tuesday night.
The work will require residents of the Venetian islands to use either the MacArthur or Julia Tuttle causeways to get to mainland Miami.
The bridge won’t be closed for four to six months, Miami-Dade County Engineer Antonio Cotarelo told residents gathered at a meeting at 1000 Venetian Way, so the county can do design work and go through the process of hiring a contractor.
Demolishing and rebuilding the 730 feet of bridge closest to mainland Miami will take an additional six to nine months, Cotarelo said.
There are 12 bridges that link Miami near the old Miami Herald building with Miami Beach near Lincoln Road, part of an historic roadway completed in 1927. Parts of it have been renovated, and the county w in the process of evaluating the condition of the bridges.
But on March 15, a Metro-Dade Transit bus crossing the westernmost bridge heading to Miami Beach got stuck.
“A portion of bridge fell and a hole opened up,” Cotarelo said.
The bridge was closed. Engineers conducted special inspections to evaluate the underside of the bridge. In several places, steel plates were put in place so cars could safely cross. And the county imposed new weight limits for vehicles crossing the bridge, and suspended bus service between mainland Miami and San Marco island.
Now they have determined the bridge can’t be repaired, it must be replaced.
“The end result is aboiut 730 feet nearest to the Miami Herald building will have to be replaced,” Cotarelo said. “We looked at other options…..what we are heading to now is an expedited procurement process for rebuilding the 730 feet of the bridge from the bottom up.”
“We will have to close down that bridge completely so there will be no access to the bridge.”
The county will try and coordinate construction schedules with the Florida Department of Transportation, which already is in the midst of the major road rebuilding project on Alton road — at the eastern end of the Venetian Causeway. But the work will contribute more congestion in the western side of South Beach.
Because of the structural problems, the county has limited the weight of vehicles crossing the westernmost bridge to 5 tons, and imposed an 11 ton limit on the other Venetian bridges. They are notifying regular causeway users — like FPL, Waste Management, landscaping companies and others — so they can use smaller, lighter vehicles.
The Miami Fire Department has made special arrangements to ensure the Venetian isles served by Miami — Biscayne and San Marco — are safe.
Deputy Fire Chief Freddy Fernandez said the city has placed a fire truck on Biscayne Island at a secure condominium that can quickly be put into service on those islands without having the cross the drawbridge. And Miami Fire has an emergency agreement with Miami Beach Fire.
Representatives of Miami-Dade Transit, who also attending the VWNA meeting, said they were trying to locate a smaller, lighter bus that could provide service between the islands and mainland Miami until the bridge is demolished.
Albert Hernandez of Miami-Dade Transit said the county has found a 6 ton bus, and staff is working with Public Works engineers to determine if it can be used. Cotarela said he thought a decision on using the smaller bus could be made within a week.
A Belle Isle resident complained that the county had ceased running the South Beach Local bus route on Belle Isle, even though the bridge on the east end of the causeway can accommodate more weight. Transit representatives said they had a solution to that service disruption.
The news about the bridge demolition overshadowed a discussion about the planned conversion of the Venetian toll system to SunPass, which is supposed to take place this summer. The bridge work may begin before SunPass is in place.