Replacement of Fifth Street bridge becomes priority
By Claudio Mendonça
Authorities are making replacement of the Fifth Street bridge over the Miami River a priority after it was struck twice in the past month, hindering vehicle and boat traffic.
Temporary repairs are expected to be finished by late today (8/11) but to prevent vehicular traffic for 90 days, according to an aide to Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
The stopgap solution should allow ships to pass more easily by adding 4 feet on each side of its spans. The drawbridge is expected to stay open during that time.
The temporary repairs should be complete tonight, allowing boat traffic to resume. Removal of stranded vessels by tugboats should follow.
The 77-year-old bridge has been criticized by shipping interests because of its narrow span and awkward angle. Officials at the Florida Department of Transportation say horizontal clearance of the bridge is less than the required 85 feet. It is built across federal waters at an awkward angle with no spillways.
The bridge is 60 feet wide and spans 133 feet over the Miami River. Normally, the bridge is opened an average 50 times a day. About 1,600 commercial vessels flow through the river annually.
After a Miami River Safety Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon, Brett Bibeau, managing director of the Miami River Commission, said workers would begin pulling back the bridge's span immediately to a fully open position.
"The Department of Transportation is removing material at the base of the structure, and the span will become 4 feet wider at the top," said Debbie Zimmerman, aide to Rep. Ros-Lehtinen who attended Tuesday's meeting.
According to a press release issued Tuesday night by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, four ships were trapped on the Miami River and five others were anchored offshore Sunday because they couldn't pass under the bridge, on Northwest Fifth Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues near downtown Miami.
The bridge had been scheduled to be replaced by 2012 before the most recent problems.
Officials of the Florida Department of Transportation are considering the bidding process for the new bridge work, originally slated for 2008. So far, the state has $45 million budgeted for construction of a new structure.
"The Florida Department of Transportation is looking at options this time to expedite the project," Mr. Bibeau said Tuesday.
Completion of a new bridge is estimated to take two to three years, regardless of when work is begun.
The proposal for a new bridge, according to the Florida Department of Transportation, calls for it to be 83 feet wide and 150 feet long.
One of the considerations for scheduling the bridge replacement is whether a new bridge can be built at the same time as one at 12th Avenue. The closing of both bridges at the same time could lead to traffic problems in nearby Little Havana and Overtown.
The 12th Avenue project is scheduled to be started in September 2006 and is estimated to last for three years.
The Miami River has 32 private terminals handling more than $4 billion in cargo, making it Florida's fifth-largest seaport, according to the Miami River Commission's Web site.