KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. – Several lanes of the Bear Cut Bridge, which connects Key Biscayne to Virginia Key, were closed after the Florida Department of Transportation and the Miami-Dade Public Works and Waste Management Department found structural deficiencies on the bridge.
Two westbound lanes of the bridge were barricaded off on Friday. Traffic has been diverted over to the two eastbound lanes, where one lane is going eastbound and the other is going westbound.
In a memo to Miami-Dade County Commissioners, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said two eastbound lanes of the bridge (toward Key Biscayne) would be rerouted. One land will be used for eastbound traffic and the other will be used for westbound traffic.
As a result of the traffic diversion, the north entrance to the Crandon Marina will be closed until further notice. This is the entrance located across from the Charter Boat dock. Crandon Marina patrons will have access to all areas of the Marina through the south entrance.
The coversheet of a inspection report by FDOT said the bridge was deemed structurally deficient but didn't indicate why.
Commuters were given a first glimpse Friday afternoon of some of the traffic trouble they will be facing for months to come.
"It's backed up way around the curb now and this is middle of the afternoon," said motorist Gwen Rouse. "It's lunch, it's not busy really."
The Department of Transportation declared the bridge "structurally deficient" after a recent inspection of the bottleneck of the Bear Cut Bridge. The ocean air has also taken its toll on the westbound lanes of the 70-year-old structure.
The bridge was built in 1944 and the 584 steel beams that hold up the westbound lanes have been impacted by the salt in the ocean that has entered the atmosphere. As a result, the beams have become rusty and chipped.
"We're confident it's not a situation where the bridge is going to fall down, but we want to take every effort and be very proactive in making sure that we are doing the right thing," said Kathleen Woods-Richardson, Miami Dade's Public Works Director.
The closed road is causing big delays for motorists, it's slowing down emergency crews and creating a dangerous situation for cyclists.
"That's going to hurt the bicycle riding on the key," said Alfred Feingold. "We're going to have to ride on the pathway here or take turns with cars on the roadway. It'll be tough."
Key Biscayne mayor Frank Caplan is not happy with the negative impact this will have on his island community, but agrees it's too risky to continue using this troubled bridge over the water.
"We cannot be irresponsible and put our heads in the sand and ignore that reality," said Caplan.
The question for many, said Local 10's Roger Lohse, is why the county didn't catch this problem earlier. Could better maintenance have helped the aging bridge weather the ocean environment?
"Whether there was a more optimal way to approach that problem years ago, I don't know. I'm not informed," Caplan said.
"We don't believe we deferred any maintenance on the bridge," said Woods-Richardson. "We believe we're responding to changes in the bridge from the last inspection to this one."
Woods-Richardson said the previous inspection in 2010 showed the bridge was structurally sound.
Crews said they will have to replace the decking of the westbound lanes, which could take up to a year and cost $25 million. The eastbound lanes of the Bear Cut Bridge are not compromised because the beams holding up the decking are made of concrete.
The county is looking for ways to alleviate traffic when the Sony Ericsson Open begins March 18 at the Crandon Park Tennis Center.