MIAMI - The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners unanimously ratified a $31 million contract Tuesday to overhaul Bear Cut Bridge, which was deemed "structurally insufficient" by the Florida Department of Transportation in January.
Several lanes of the bridge remain closed. It connects Key Biscayne to Virginia Key.
"We need to fix this bridge now and do it in the safest way possible," said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
Miami-Dade County officials said they were aware of corrosion years ago, but the recent inspection found more on each of the steel beams holding up the westbound lanes.
As part of the contract, construction crews will make Bear Cut Bridge wider and safer for drivers, runners, and bicyclists.
"If I recall correctly, when you first came and brought this before the commission, you were talking about replacing the bridge," said Commissioner Juan Zapata. "Has there been a change in regards to how we're approaching this?"
"A new bridge -- you call replacement -- we're not having a new bridge," said Gimenez. "We're repairing what we have. We're also enhancing the capabilities of this bridge."
But many people living in Key Biscayne want a new bridge built over Bear Cut. They said a new one would last 70 years while an overhauled bridge would last about 40 years.
"The design builds specs for a new bridge, which require totally different types of steel inside, different diameter pilings, different everything," said Carlos De La Cruz, Sr., who lives in Key Biscayne. "It's 70 years. It just boggles the imagination."
The county's chief bridge engineer said repairs are urgently needed.
"I'm not satisfied," said Key Biscayne Vice Mayor Mayra Pena Lindsay. "I think safety for us has always been the motivating factor. I think the foundations and the foundations below the sea bed should have been inspected long ago."
The Village of Key Biscayne will hire its own engineers to examine the bridge pilings to see if they're structurally sound. The county's firm plans to do the same before starting construction.
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