Traffic-clogging Fifth Street Bridge to be replaced
By Claudio Mendonça
After decades of clogging cargo shipping on the Miami River and auto traffic above, the 80-year-old Fifth Street Bridge will be replaced by one offering wider passage for ships that would open less frequently. But the new bridge is at least five years away.
Although collisions with the bridge frequently halt auto traffic and force insurance companies to raise tugboat rates, the Florida Department of Transportation doesn't plan to seek bids for a new bridge until 2008. Construction then would take two to three years.
"Because it is not a fixed bridge, it is a much more complicated process," said Teresita Alvarez, an engineer for the department. "It takes three years to design and one year to procure the bridge's mechanism. There are lots of nuts, bolts and steel that go into this project."
With an environmental impact study completed, the project team is in the final stages of designing a new bridge for Northwest Fifth Street at US 441.
According to the transportation department, plans are expected to be 30% complete by June. Total cost is estimated at $31.1 million, with right-of-way purchase at $3.7 million and inspection expenditures at $6.4 million.
"The Fifth Street Bridge was deemed a hazard to navigation for vessels by the Coast Guard," said Brett Bibeau, managing director of the Miami River Commission. "Thankfully, the Florida Department of Transportation has appropriated nearly $44 million in funding for replacement."
The new low-level, double-span bascule bridge will be at the same site as the current one. Unlike the roadway on the existing bridge, the new one is to have a median and wide sidewalks.
The bridge is to have a 13-foot vertical clearance in mid-channel, compared with 14 feet for the old bridge. But the proposed model will have a 125-foot clearance between the piers, far more than the current bridge's 75 feet.
"The significantly increased horizontal clearance will offer a wider channel for large ships," said Brian Rick, a state transportation spokesman. "The key thing is that the bridge will have fewer openings, translating in fewer delays both for boaters and motorists."
Collisions with the bridge are leading tugboat insurance companies to raise rates, Mr. Bibeau said. The piers protrude into the channel, creating strong currents and narrowing shipping passageways. As ships approach, he said, they are forced to go under the bridge at an angle instead of straight through.
"The strong current is created due to solid concrete built into the river," he said.
Over the past decade, he said, ships have hit the bridge about nine times.
Ships hitting the piers hamper traffic on the roadway above much more than on the river, he said.
"The last time a vessel struck the bridge, it took several months to be repaired," he said. "Therefore, the bridge's open position created much more of an inconvenience for vehicles."
During construction, motorists would have to detour. Alternative routes include the Second Avenue Bridge, the Brickell Bridge, Interstate 95, the Flagler Street Bridge, the 12th Avenue Bridge, State Highway 836, 17th Avenue, 22nd Avenue and 27th Avenue.
A river walk is planned on the back of the bascule piers that help open and close the bridge.
The state transportation department plans to sell the old bridge or sink it for a reef.