Work to begin Monday on widening of Brickell Avenue Bridge
By Charlotte Libov
A yearlong $1.2 million project to widen the Brickell Avenue Bridge and ease a traffic bottleneck through downtown by opening an additional northbound lane is to begin Monday.
Work, expected to last through November, involves removing a concrete barrier that separates the additional northbound lane. Currently, the bridge has three southbound lanes but only two northbound, so that "when you add the northbound lane, it will ease the traffic flow for people coming into downtown," said Carlos Sarmiento, a public-information officer for the Florida Department of Transportation.
"To accomplish this, there has to be modifications made to the actual bridge to accommodate the widening of the bridge and the road. It's a big undertaking, but it will definitely ease the traffic flow, and all will be better for that," he said, noting that the restructuring of the bridge will also improve it.
Currently, three lanes of traffic flow southbound over the bridge but only two northbound. When the bridge was built a decade ago, replacing the 64-year-old bridge at the site, it was raised several feet to avoid frequent openings and traffic jams and a third southbound lane was added.
But the old Dupont Plaza Hotel and Offices, which stood immediately east of the bridge, prevented the addition of a third northbound lane. The hotel was recently razed to permit construction of the new Viceroy at Icon Brickell.
Clogged traffic at the bridge that backs up along Brickell Avenue for as much as six or eight blocks has long been a concern of the Brickell Area Association, which is bracing for the inevitable delays and problems any major roadway construction project causes, said Wifredo "Willy" Gort, the group's president.
"I'm looking forward to the expansion of the bridge, but anytime you have construction, there are delays in traffic," he said.
But expansion alone won't solve the problem, he said - pedestrian crosswalks are needed. In addition, he is hoping that completion of ongoing dredging of the Miami River will help cut congestion by limiting hours during which the drawbridge will be raised, adding to the traffic backlog.
"In the past, the bridge would not be open during rush hour, between 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. The reason they started opening it was so boats could pass during the high tide," he said. "Hopefully, after the dredging is done, the bridge won't need to be open during that time." He also hopes signs will be posted so motorists can avoid the bridge.
Hal Martell, the association's incoming president, questioned the state's decision to do construction work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. only and not around-the-clock. Mr. Sarmiento said night work was rejected because of noise and disruption it would cause to the nearby Hyatt Regency hotel, the James L. Knight Center, where concerts are held, and nearby Brickell and Brickell Key residences. Lanes will be closed to complete the work during non-peak hours on non-event days and weekends, the transportation department advised.
Mr. Martell is also hoping that transportation department and the city will reroute traffic to some lesser-used routes, particularly along Miami Avenue. "I would hope there is an effort to educate the public to move west and use the other roads that are only a few blocks away," he said.
According to the transportation department, access to local businesses and residences will be maintained during the project but pedestrians and bicyclists will be advised to stay away from work areas and obey all "Sidewalk Closed" signs.
"The project has been well thought out and the ultimate goal is worth it," said Mr. Martell
Mr. Gort agreed but added, "We can hopefully live through the pain and receive benefits in the future."