State officials, local dignitaries, and conservationalists gathered last Tuesday to celebrate the completion of the first phase of the Tamiami Trail bridge project. The plan took more than two decades to achieve and is part of a larger effort to restore fresh water flow to the Everglades.
The Miami Herald summarized the project as a "one-mile-long bridge designed to begin healing the ecological wounds inflicted by a road that has blocked the flow of the Everglades for nearly 90 years." The newspaper wrote:
The $81 million bridge, scheduled to open to daily traffic in a few weeks, ranks among the most significant Everglades projects to date. It sets the stage for the first breach later this year of a historic road that has been far more than just a lime rock-and-asphalt barrier to reviving the shrunken, struggling River of Grass.
The bridge, which took four years to build and roughly 20 years to get off the ground, is "the first span of what will ultimately be a six-and-a-half mile Everglades Skyway, a series of bridges over Shark River Slough," said Jonathan Ullman, the South Florida/Everglades senior field organizer for the Sierra Club.
"The impact will be huge," Ullman said. "In the short term, the one-mile bridge will have some benefits to flow and wildlife, but its greatest advantage is that it has spurred further bridging."
Ullman said the bridging, combined with levee elimination projects and cleanup of "Big Sugar's effluent," all will work to "restore fresh water flow into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay." Ullman said this also is an important first step in the process of fortifying the Everglades against the threat of climate change related sea level rise.
"Scientists tell us that the Park, which is less than three feet in most areas, has been sinking," Ullman said. "It's sinking because the land is not getting enough water and the organic peats and soils are disappearing at an alarming rate."
Restoring "historic fresh water flow" to the region will help rehydrate the aquifer, provide fresh water pressure southward, and "build up the land," Ullman said.
The Tamiami Trail bridging project will be included as a field trip destination for the upcoming meeting of the Congressionally-mandated Committee on Independent Scientific Review of the Everglades Restoration Progress. The field trip, planned for Wednesday, March 27, is part of a three-day, science-based exploration of issues relevant to the Everglades' health.
This spring's meeting -- held in the Marriott Airport Hotel in Miami -- will include an open session dedicated to climate change, including predicted climate scenarios for South Florida, impact on water supplies, coastal ecosystems, and restoration plans. The climate change session is Thursday and is open to the public. Find a full schedule of events here. For a registration form, click here.