Green Piece

The plan to landscape the newly rehabbed MacArthur Causeway finally takes root

Take a look at the new MacArthur Causeway now. It's fast and smooth, for sure. Plenty of room to maneuver through rush hour at velocities well over the 30 mph speed limit. It's also about as boring as a stretch of asphalt can get: all road with just a strip of sod. And if it weren't for some vocal residents who live on the causeway's exclusive bay islands (and a little strategically applied media pressure), that's just what Miami and its bazillions of tourists would be stuck with from now on. A scenic missed opportunity of spectacular proportions.

Fortunately for commuters, though, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) came to its senses last year, right in the middle of the fifteen-month, $15.7 million causeway construction project. Although planners had originally budgeted only a paltry sum to cover rudimentary sodding, state transportation officials responded to public pressure by hiring private landscape architect, Bill Rosenberg. Rosenberg recently completed initial landscaping designs that promise to capture the beauty of the causeway experience and cause any driver to forgive or forget DOT's near disaster.

The plans call for a repeating series of plants that, according to Rosenberg, "create a simple rhythm that extends across the causeway." The median would contain alternating spans of graceful coconut palms underplanted with spider lily, as well as flowering bougainvillea and stately Medjool date palms subtly accented with vibrant purple queen, a low-growing ground cover with fleshy leaves.

Along the north and south sides of the roadway, where DOT has installed three-foot high concrete Jersey barriers and left little room for landscaping, Rosenberg's plans suggest planting railroad vine, a native salt-resistant variety that blooms periodically with lavender flowers. These will cascade over the barriers, subduing their harshness. In addition, the designs call for occasional coconut palms underplanted with Fakahatchee grass along the north side, and mangroves planted on the edge of the shipping channel to the south.

Rosenberg, who will be paid $88,000 for his design labors, made several alterations to his plans over the past two weeks, after he presented them to representatives from the homeowners association of Palm, Hibiscus, and Star islands, and to officials from the City of Miami Beach and DOT. The principal change, requested by the City of Miami Beach, involves replacing the coconut palms with royal palms. "I was thinking of a more informal Art Deco feeling that I thought the coconut palms embody," Rosenberg explains. "But they were looking for something more formal." City officials, the architect adds, were also concerned that coconut palms would require more maintenance. (While the state is going to pick up the tab for the installation of the landscaping, the City of Miami Beach will pay for its maintenance.)

In addition, officials requested that Rosenberg replace the spider lily with raphiolepis, a low-lying green shrub that sports white blooms in spring and fall. The architect has also eliminated the bougainvillea from the plans, for fear it might not stand up to heavy winter winds. Silver buttonwood pruned to three or four feet high will replace it. "The dark green of the raphiolepis will contrast nicely with the silver leaf of the buttonwood," the chiaroscuro-conscious Rosenberg predicts, "and the silver buttonwood will reflect the whitish trunks of the royal palms." Finally, designers dropped the mangroves from the plans altogether: if the mangroves didn't fare well, they would obscure the view; if pruning were necessary, it would run afoul of environmental concerns regarding the trees, which are protected under state law.

Transportation officials plan to hold a public meeting about the $1.5 million landscaping project around the end of April. After weighing any additional input from that meeting, Rosenberg and DOT will finalize the designs by summer. With time out for the usual bureaucratic paper-shuffling, bidding for the landscaping jobs is scheduled to begin in December, groundbreaking by next April. An optimistic DOT spokesman David Fierro, however, thinks transportation officials may be able to accelerate the landscaping schedule, given that the construction phase of the project was finished earlier than expected. In the meantime, though, drivers will have to endure the drab new look of the causeway, and can consider themselves fortunate that it won't always look and feel like

 
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