Over the past several years, FDOT initiated the process to replace the 1.5-mile structure that links State Road 836 east of Interstate 95 to the MacArthur Causeway. As the main artery between the Miami International Airport, the Port of Miami, and South Beach, millions of visitors traverse this scenic stretch annually on the way to a cruise or the beaches.
The byproduct of 1960’s urban renewal, I-395 ripped apart neighborhoods and displaced thousands from historic Overtown. Today the structure continues to thwart efforts to unite our major public institutions including: the Arsht Center, Art and Science Museums (both currently under construction), and the American Airlines Arena. As such, FDOT’s plans for I-395 will play a critical role in Miami’s ability to reshape the urban core and reunite downtown, Parkwest, Omni, and Overtown districts.
While no decision has been made on what final shape I-395’s replacement structure will take, FDOT is beginning to explore more “cost effective” alternatives to the more aesthetic designs that have been presented. It’s called value engineering. What does value engineering mean? FDOT defines it as “the systematic application of function-oriented techniques by a multi-disciplined team to analyze and improve the value of a product, facility, system, or service.”
In this context, the concept of value engineering contradicts the livable, “sense of place” we’re working to achieve in downtown. As it currently stands, I-395 and all the other roadways that access our barrier islands are utilitarian structures, serving little purpose other than to move vehicles from one land mass to another.
The challenge with I-395 is that it must satisfy numerous conflicting needs. I-395 isn’t just a bridge (or tunnel, or boulevard). It should serve as an icon; a figurative representation of Miami’s status as the Gateway to the Americas. A new I-395 should once and for all eliminate the physical barrier that has long divided downtown Miami from the Omni and Performing Arts Districts, encouraging more active uses below while maintaining the flow of traffic above. Not an easy feat. While the Downtown Development Authority and city of Miami recognize the economic value in designing an iconic structure at this site, FDOT may think in the terms of dollars and cents rather than the contextual and neighborhood needs. Simply put, this isn’t an ordinary site where a no-frills structure will suffice.
Cities all across the nation are eliminating derelict highways that for the past 40-50 years have scarred, divided, and polluted neighborhoods. Boston’s big dig for example submerged a two-mile stretch of I-93 that had cut off the North End and Waterfront neighborhoods from downtown and the rest of the city. The Rose Kennedy Greenway, a 1.5 mile public park, now stretches its length. Where the highway tunnel ends, an iconic structure, the Leonard P. Zakim Memorial Bridge takes over, leading traffic over the Charles River to points north. Adjacent to the TD Garden (home of the Celtics & Bruins), the Zakim Bridge is now synonymous with the Boston Skyline. Other notable examples include: San Francisco’s Embarcardero Freeway, Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct, Hartford’s I-84 Viaduct.
Creating a visually appealing bridge includes considering the aesthetics of the structure from all perspectives, especially the pedestrians and cyclists we’re trying to lure back into downtown streets.