The groundbreaking Friday for a 1-mile-long bridge along the Tamiami Trail is a key step toward reviving the Everglades, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Though seemingly small in extent, the bridge is the first step to improving water flows through the "river of grass." The project has been 20 years in coming.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Tom Strickland joined officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District to break ground Friday on the bridge. The $81 million project is the largest construction project in the history of the National Park Service and a key component of the Modified Waters Delivery Project to restore fresh water flows to Everglades National Park and the South Florida Ecosystem.
“Today we have reached an historic milestone in the restoration of the Everglades and in our agenda to help protect America’s great outdoors for future generations,” the Interior secretary said. “The Everglades are one of America’s most-treasured places, but for more than 90 years, the Tamiami Trail has effectively served as a dike, interrupting natural water flows that are vital to the natural ecosystem. Today, thanks to the hard work of many stakeholders in South Florida, we are building a bridge that will help to restore those water flows while still allowing the Trail to serve its important transportation function for the people of this state.”
At the National Parks Conservation Association, which long has lobbied for the project, Sara Fain said the project is a key towards restoring unimpeded water flows into Northeast Shark River Slough, the historic shallow river that serves as the main source of water for the park and Florida Bay.
“We applaud the efforts of the federal government for starting the process of bridging Tamiami Trail,” said Ms. Fain, NPCA Everglades restoration program manager. “However, this is only the beginning and we can’t stop here. Ten miles of road continues to block water from reaching the park, which is the lifeblood of the Everglades.”
The Tamiami Trail was constructed in the 1920s with the intention of linking Tampa and Miami, hence its name. The latest bridge project, which is expected to be completed in May 2013, is located in Miami-Dade County, adjacent to the northern boundary of Everglades National Park.
The process to reach agreement on the bridge was at times complex and time-consuming, involving many stakeholders and subject to rigorous environmental review. In November, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded an $81 million contract that includes constructing the bridge, and raising and reinforcing an additional 9.7 miles of the trail.
As a major component of the Modified Water Deliveries Project – also known as Mod Waters – the bridge will specifically restore more natural water flow to Northeast Shark River Slough, a portion of Everglades National Park which Congress added in 1989. Once completed, Mod Waters will provide a foundation for other restoration projects that will be implemented in the future to increase the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of fresh water to the Everglades.
According to NPCA officials, groundbreaking for the 1-mile bridge can be built upon in the second phase of Tamiami Trail bridging. Science shows that the only way to meaningfully restore Everglades National Park and the wildlife it protects is to build a series of bridges along the 11 miles of Tamiami Trail that cuts through Northeast Shark River Slough, according to the park advocacy group.
The Park Service is developing a plan to build additional bridges along this 11-mile stretch that blocks flows into the national park, NPCA said.
Secretary Salazar noted that the Obama administration has made Everglades restoration a high priority in its efforts to protect America’s great outdoors. The president’s economic recovery plan included $117 million for the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of the Interior to restore habitat and to provide additional fresh water for the South Florida ecosystem.