A ribbon cutting that drew flocks of birds as well as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar marked the completion of a mile-long bridge over the Tamiami Trail, the latest structural component to help restore natural water flows to the Everglades in south Florida.
More than a decade ago the Clinton administration promised to embark on an expansive, and expensive, plan to restore the Everglades. That project was seen as a way to restore, preserve, and protect the South Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection. With an estimated total cost of $10.7 billion to the federal government and $11.8 billion to the state of Florida, the initiative is the largest hydrologic restoration project in U.S. history.
The Tamiami Trail was constructed in the 1920s with the intention of linking Tampa and Miami, hence its name. But its construction blocked natural water flows through the "river of grass." This bridge project is located in Miami-Dade County, adjacent to the northern boundary of Everglades National Park. The bridge's construction allows more natural waterflow to Northeast Shark River Slough in the national park.
According to Everglades National Park officials, "removing as many barriers to flow as possible—roads, levees, canals, etc.—has become a mantra of the larger restoration effort, and resolving the deleterious impacts of Tamiami Trail is seen as critical to securing the long-term health of Everglades National Park."
“Thanks to a remarkable partnership between Federal agencies, Members of Congress, the State of Florida, and the many stakeholders here in South Florida, we have reached a historic day in the long quest to restore the water flows vital to a renewed and healthy Everglades,” Secretary Salazar said Tuesday. “With the completion of this bridge and the Modified Water Deliveries (MWD) Project, we are moving ever closer to our goal of restoring the River of Grass to ensure the health of this iconic landscape for future generations to enjoy while creating jobs and boosting Florida’s economy.”
“Today marks a critical milestone for the Tamiami Trail Modifications Project. This one-mile bridge will allow a 92 percent increase in flows to Everglades National Park,” added Jo-Ellen Darcy, an Assistant Secretary of the Army over Civil Works. “But, there is still more to do. With the support of the Administration, the state of Florida and our partnering agencies, we will continue our work to restore this American treasure.”
Originally initiated by Congress as part of the 1989 Everglades Expansion and Protection Act, the MWD project aims to improve water deliveries into the park. The $81 million bridge dedicated Tuesday is part of the largest construction project in the history of the National Park Service. It is expected to increase water flow by 92 percent over current levels to Northeast Shark River Slough and rehydrate and restore the 104,000-acre East Everglades portion of Everglades National Park all the way down to Florida Bay.
“This is great news for Florida and the Everglades. This project is a perfect example of how we can grow economic opportunities for Florida families while enhancing our state’s natural habitats," said Florida Gov. Rick Scott. "We must build on this great work to protect our state’s everglades – and that’s why my Florida Families First Budget invests $60 million to protect and restore this natural treasure.”
The increased water volumes and improved flow distributions will re-establish seasonal water depths and flooding durations that are critical to the survival of many fish and wildlife species, including the federally endangered wood stork, Everglade snail kite, and Cape Sable seaside sparrow, as well as the state-listed Roseate spoonbill.
“The success of our partnership to complete Mod Waters will provide a foundation for other restoration projects as we address the need to improve the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of the water that makes the Everglades a unique ecosystem,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.
“This is a great day for Everglades National Park and all the staff and partners who have worked tirelessly for the past 24 years to make Mod Waters a reality,” said Everglades National Park Superintendent Dan Kimball. “We all share an enormous sense of accomplishment in completion of the one-mile bridge, a major step forward in the largest restoration project in the history of the National Park System.”