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Gov. Scott Seeks Funds For Miami's 'Signature Bridge'

Florida Dept. of Transportation

Under construction during most of the 1960s, Interstate-95 ripped right through the heart of Overtown. Thousands of homes were torn down. Instant slums were created as the concrete expressway ripped apart the neighborhood's cultural, economic and education connections.

The result is the Overtown that's visible today -- the Overtown that's still trying to recover.

"[I-95] caused great harm in the past," says Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. "We need to rectify that."

So, let the rectification begin.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday he'll seek funding from the Legislature to rebuild the part of I-95 that caused some of the worst damage: The I-395 overpass and bridge that starts in northern downtown and winds eastward toward Miami Beach. He told local officials gathered at PortMiami the work will cost no more than $600 million with construction to start in the fall of 2018.

"The bridge will improve connectivity between I-95 and PortMiami while revitalizing the surrounding area with a new, inspiring signature bridge," Scott said.

Credit Miami Herald
REALITY: The I-395 overpass in real life.

The announcement reflects an agreement with the city of Miami that settles a lawsuit and creates the opportunity to add a visual trademark to the Miami skyline.

The idea of a signature bridge was well advanced when the city began to suspect the Florida Department of Transportation of duplicity. As it complained in a suit against the agency, the city believed FDOT was only pretending to support the popular signature-bridge idea to make its funding application more persuasive to federal officials. What FDOT really planned to do, according to the complaint, was design and build a cheaper and more utilitarian bridge.

The suit fizzled out on Nov. 1 with a settlement that limits construction costs to $600 and establishes a committee to advise  FDOT on design concept and aesthetic issues.

What's it going to look like? Good question. The pre-lawsuit renderings showed a fancy suspension bridge with a soaring, double-wishbone design. As a suspension bridge, it would have required fewer of the concrete piers that now characterize much of the Overtown landscape. There would also be space underneath the bridge for commercial and retail development.

The cost of the double-wishbone was estimated at several million above the $600 million limit. But local officials believe the budget will still accommodate an eye-catching landmark that will say "Miami" to anyone who sees a picture of it.

The I-395 overpass has been considered obsolete since the early 1990s, when engineering studies found numerous design and safety flaws. By 1996, FDOT planners even had a plan to replace it but their plan was a "new bridge, same as the old bridge" approach, with only some of the problems fixed.

Already recognizing the urban and social damage that the bridge had caused, federal highway officials refused to approve the design.

This latest proposal seems to touch all the bases: It would remove the bridge's shadow from Overtown, allow easier access to the city's downtown cultural attractions and  burn "Miami" ever deeper into the American cultural consciousness.

"All great cities have a signature bridge, and that's the perfect place to put one." said Gimenez. "San Francisco, you know, the  Golden Gate? I don't think we’re going to have a Golden Gate, but something a lot better than what we have right now, which is really, to put it mildly, is unattractive."