Miami airport loses federal funding for expansion project
By Shannon Pettypiece
Miami International Airport's massive expansion project is in trouble as the federal government struggles to find funds for security needs.
"This is an absolute crisis," Miami-Dade Aviation Director Angela Gittens said Monday. "This creates a crisis for the capital improvements program. We cannot hang onto the (expansion) program."
Transportation Security Administration officials said they have less money than expected because of recent legislation that requires the agency to pay 90% instead of 75% of airports' security costs.
Miami International was banking on $177 million in federal funds to install and build facilities for federally mandated explosive-detection systems, Ms. Gittens said.
Although the federal government never promised to pay Miami International for baggage-screening infrastructure, Ms. Gittens said, officials had pledged support and promised to pick up the security-equipment tab at 10 other airports, Ms. Gittens said.
With a potential $177 million deficit, Ms. Gittens said, the $4.8 billion expansion plan will have to be cut to purchase required security features. If aviation officials want to redirect airport funds, Miami-Dade County commissioners will need to weigh in on the proposal.
The new security features must be in place when new terminals open. The cost of the baggage-screening infrastructure is about one-eighth the cost of building Miami International's new North Terminal.
Miami International's expansion, which includes two new terminals to open in 2006, is expected to significantly increase airport revenue and competitiveness.
"We are putting ourselves more and more in a non-competitive position," Ms. Gittens said. "This is all going in the wrong direction."
While Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Lauren Stover said the organization is in a financial bind given the new 90% funding requirement, there are other options available to help airports.
"TSA is exploring other avenues in which we can continue to support these airports," Ms. Stover said. "We have a limited amount of money to work with."
Ms. Stover, a former spokeswoman for the county's aviation department, said the Transportation Security Administration understands Miami International's needs and is committed to helping the airport.
"TSA allocations take the airports with the most critical needs into consideration, and clearly, MIA remains a priority for TSA," Ms. Stover said. "When there is another opportunity for federal funding, MIA will be on the radar screen."
To meet federal regulations requiring airports to screen every piece of checked luggage, Miami International needs to build $200 million worth of infrastructure to house explosive-detection devices and create a secure space for all baggage to be checked. Previously, about 10% of checked baggage was screened.
New facilities would speed the inspection process and improve security with screening taking place behind closed doors and a secure room away from passengers for potential explosive luggage. Screening currently takes place in hallways.
According to an economic impact study released by Miami International this summer, the airport created 37,425 direct jobs and 241,021 indirect jobs, which Ms. Gittens said are in jeopardy if fiscal troubles continue.
"When MIA loses traffic because we are completely uncompetitive, people lose jobs. This is a direct hit on the people of Miami-Dade County."