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Winning Miami Bridge Design Fosters Dissent

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

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A Florida State Department of Transportation panel followed 90 minutes of ardent, sometimes contentious public input on Friday (May 12) by choosing a contractor for an $800 million reconstruction of Interstate 395 in Miami—replete with the design of its so-called “signature bridge.”

According to media reports, the three panel members were unanimous in endorsing a proposal from a joint venture team led by Archer Western and The de Moya Group. Taking into consideration scores given to three finalists by two previous review panels, the Archer Western team edged its closest competitor, the Fluor-Astaldi-MCM team, by a half point.

Artist's rendering courtesy of Archer Western-de Moya Group

Archer Western’s plan for a new bridge over Biscayne Boulevard in Miami features six support arches of varying heights that rise from the center of the elevated span and reach toward its outer edges, a design meant to replicate a fountain.

Jessica Goldman Srebnick, CEO of Goldman Properties, said the Town Square Neighborhood Development Corp., a group that works on neighborhood planning in the nearby arts and entertainment district, was “very disturbed” by the scoring.

“The project has been closed to public opinion, an $800 million project. That fact alone is shocking. We implore you, do not rubber-stamp,” Goldman Srebnick, a board member of the group, beseeched the panel before the vote.

Debate Rages

Archer Western’s plan for a new bridge over Biscayne Boulevard features six support arches of varying heights that rise from the center of the elevated span and reach toward its outer edges, a design meant to replicate a fountain. According to the contractor, when complete, it will be the largest segmented concrete arch in North America. According to the technical proposal submitted by the firm, the deck will be connected to the arches by steel cable suspenders, with each strand covered with a corrosion-inhibiting wax.

A panel of community representatives tasked with evaluating the proposals based on aesthetics--a key element in the heated competition—disagreed with the decision. The four-member community panel preferred the Fluor-Astaldi-MCM team bridge, a cable-stayed design which consisted of two support towers designed to resemble dancers cavorting in front of the adjacent Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

The Florida Department of Transportation’s “Cone of Silence”—rules devised to eliminate lobbying during the selection process—had prevented the public or local government officials from viewing any of the proposals. The agency released the proposals and bridge designs after the three-person panel’s decision was announced.

Construction on the five-year project is slated to begin by year’s end. A rebuild of the 836/I-95 interchange and reconstruction of 836 between I-95 and Northwest 17th Avenue are other components of the plan.

Mixed Messages

FDOT disregarded the views of an aesthetics review committee, and had its own committee focus on other factors before making a decision.

Artist's rendering courtesy of Fluor-Astaldi-MCM

Fluor-Astaldi-MCM's second-place proposal consisted of two support towers designed to resemble dancers cavorting in front of the adjacent Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

"I envisioned a bridge where people would flock to take selfies. One that every broadcast in Miami would feature," Alyce Robertson, executive director of the Miami Downtown Development Authority, wrote in a letter read during the public comment period before the formal vote. "I ask that FDOT exercises its discretion and build the iconic bridge that won the votes of the aesthetic review committee. The bridge that will be the icon for Miami for generations to come.”

Alan Fein, chairman of the Arsht, questioned why FDOT allowed the public to speak Friday if the committee did nothing else but approve the finalists’ scores, and its decision to keep the competing proposals under wraps until the proposal was approved.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me to have the public comment to people who have no authority to revisit the decision,” Fein said. “As a citizen, it makes no sense to me that you would listen to public comment and then say nothing about it. It suggests that the process is more than opaque.

“Then, when you throw into it the relatively suspicious circumstances where the vote is gerrymandered, it makes me wonder. The optics are bad on two levels. The optics are also bad because no one got to see the bridges. My God, that’s what I thought this process was about.”

Neither team could comment on Friday’s decision; the “cone of silence” remained in place for 72 hours afterward. A formal bid protest by the Fluor-Astaldi team is expected, which likely would extend the cone.

   

Tagged categories: Aesthetics; Bridges; Construction; Design build; Finance; North America; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways

Comment from Paul Ravelle, (5/17/2017, 10:24 AM)

Form follows function. In these days of limited budgets for new construction, is there a need to incur the additional costs associated with "decorative" elements on public works projects?


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