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Updated: Miami’s $800M ‘signature bridge’ project chosen amid major controversy

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Spiderman would love it

A rendering of the ‘signature bridge’ that’s been chosen for I-395 in downtown Miami. it looks like a spider.
A rendering of the ‘signature bridge’ that’s been chosen for I-395 in downtown Miami
Renderings courtesy of Archer Western - De Moya

Note: An update to this article can be found down below toward the bottom

After years of chatter, the design for a state-funded “signature bridge” at Miami’s core has been chosen, albeit through a questionable selection process that could potentially delay the innately controversial $800 million project.

The winning proposal — approved by the Florida Department of Transportation on Friday with allegedly no public input — is named “Fountain” and was created by a joint venture team led by Archer Western and The de Moya Group, edging the next closest bid by just half a point. The project entails the reconstruction of parts of I-395 and 836 in addition to the bridge, whose renderings evoke a spidery appearance with its arches of differing heights shooting out from its core.

According to a Miami Herald report, “no member of the public or local government had seen the competing proposals because they were cloaked in the Florida Department of Transportation’s ‘cone of silence,’ rules meant to keep lobbying out of the selection process.”

A former Miami commissioner is essentially accusing FDOT of rigging the process:

The aesthetic scoring has been the linchpin of public controversy over FDOT’s selection process. Marc Sarnoff, a former Miami commissioner who helped craft an agreement with FDOT to weigh aesthetics strongly in the decision, claims the agency manipulated the score tallies to effectively override the community panel’s preference. The agency has not responded to the allegation, which has been echoed in a letter of complaint by the second-place team.

Fluor-Astaldi-MCM was the runner-up, with a rendering of their proposal down below.

A formal protest of FDOT’s decision is expected by the second-place team. Concerns were also raised by the Miami-Dade mayor’s office and the chairman of the Adrienne Arsht Center, who says the state’s method “makes no sense.”

Outside of the mostly aesthetic bridge redesign, there’s a plan for a 55-acre Heritage Trail at ground level under and around the bridge, creating new parks and public open space with the goal of improving the Overtown area and the bridge’s shady underpasses.

The project was funded way back in 1996.

According to FDOT’s website, construction is expected to begin in December at a total cost of $802 million. A tunnel was considered but it was a significantly more expensive alternative. Many, including Miami commissioner Francis Suarez in December 2015, wanted the funds rerouted to more concerning projects like connecting downtown Miami and Miami Beach via rail.

More renderings of the winning design are below and we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Update (May 16 at 11:56 A.M.): A spokesperson for Archer Western and The de Moya Group tells us the idea that there was no public input is “inaccurate” and the allegations that FDOT manipulated the scoring is “absurd.”

Their full statement to Curbed is below:

“The idea that there was no public input is inaccurate. The Aesthetics Review Committee (ARC) in the RFP was put together as a result of the Settlement Agreement and actually gave the local public an unprecedented role in FDOT’s procurement (never done before), actually giving the ARC the exclusive role of shortlisting the bridge designs and also scoring the final round of proposals.

The settlement agreement did not give the ARC the authority to score proposals and only gave them the ability to "advise" FDOT on the scoring criteria, which they did, and the bridge designs. Audrey Edmonson of the County Commission actually chaired that ARC and is a local elected official who saw and, along with three other Committee members, scored all the proposed designs.

The idea that FDOT manipulated the scoring is absurd. They actually gave the ARC more authority than was ever afforded under the RFP and followed the RFP to the "T". One has to only read page 15 of the RFP to see that the ‘manipulation’ argument is on its face absurd and the process followed correctly.”