For years, Miami residents, business leaders, church leaders, community activists and government officials have attended countless meetings to decide how I-395 would look between I-95 to MacArthur Causeway.
They agreed on a modern-looking bridge with two arches shooting skyward. The iconic structure known as the Wishbone Arch would be part of a project to do away with much of the concrete below the elevated highway, which blocks north-south access from downtown Miami to Overtown and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
But now, the Florida Department of Transportation is pushing for a less expensive design $559 million compared with $673 million, according to Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.
They consider the new alternative more intrusive. As private citizens, the two city officials sued the department Monday to force the state to honor its "promise." The complaint, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, seeks class certification on behalf of all Miami residents.
Department spokesman Brian Rick said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit claims the department promised the arch concept to garner public support, which was instrumental in getting the right to federal funding for the infrastructure work. The project has not been funded.
Improving the 1.4-mile stretch of highway is needed because of its "existing deficiencies in capacity, geometrics and safety," according to FDOT documents. The rebuilt highway segment will carry heavy trucks after PortMiami opens a new tunnel linked to the causeway.
Now that the department has federal approval, the state is pushing for a cheaper design known as the Segmental Box, which would have lots of concrete at its base and continue to act as a physical barrier in the community. Sections under the highway once were a haven for Miami's homeless community.
"It is the classic bait-and-switch case," Sarnoff said.
Sarnoff learned about the state strategy in January. He said department officials began attending chamber of commerce and other meetings to show the cheaper design. Sarnoff hopes the lawsuit will prevent the department from spending federal money on what he considers the wrong design.