Planning group launches study of port traffic congestion
By Charlotte Libov
A proposed $1 billion tunnel at the Port of Miami would ease traffic but not fix all of Miami-Dade County's cargo transport problems, according to officials, so the Metropolitan Planning Organization is launching a $150,000 study to look at further ways to reduce congestion from port traffic.
The study was requested by Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton, a critic of the tunnel proposal. He is resigned that a tunnel will be built, he said, but added that it would not solve the problem of how to get cargo from the port to the West Dade warehouse district, where most of it is bound.
"The governor has decided he is going to get a tunnel built, so I don't think we'll win the battle of no tunnel," he said. "But the issue which is still in front of us is how they will move the cargo from the port and then get the cargo to West Dade."
The Florida Department of Transportation is seeking a private partner to build and operate the tunnel, which would dip under Biscayne Bay, linking the Port of Miami to the MacArthur Causeway at Watson Island.
Mr. Winton said he is concerned about the roads on which cargo would travel, particularly State Road 836, "which is all jammed up now, and I can't imagine what it will be like in 20 years."
"Who knows whether they'll get that tunnel built," Mr. Winton said. "I am not trying to stop the tunnel. I am still pressing them on how they will keep the port viable in the long run if you can't get the cargo moved to West Dade."
Ric Katz, a spokesman for state transportation department, said he recognizes that the tunnel is not the sole solution for the congestion problem.
"The FDOT sees the port tunnel as an important part of the solution to port access needs in downtown Miami. But it is part of the solution. It is not the entire solution," he said. "Other things will need to be done as port traffic continues to grow and the cargo-related industry in West Dade mushrooms. East-west movement of cargo will have its own demands, and creative solutions will be needed."
Frank Baron, the Metropolitan Planning Organization's transportation-planning manager, said his agency is in the early stages of a feasibility study. He said a request for qualifications for a consultant to perform the study will be sent out shortly. Such a study usually takes about a year, he said, but he hopes it would be done more quickly.
"The study is going to take a look at alternatives for port access," Mr. Baron said. "It will come up with cost estimates."
The study will look at all the viable ways "to take the cargo from the Port of Miami to whatever its final destination is via a mode that would not interfere with downtown traffic," Mr. Baron said.
Although he acknowledged that it's likely the tunnel will be built, he said the feasibility study "will look at all alternatives, including if there is - and if there isn't - a tunnel."
"We've already done a lot of planning for the Port of Miami tunnel. But it's going to be a massive project, and its not going to be done overnight," he said. "It is probably a good bet that this study will come in time to inform the other one."
He noted that the tunnel plan has "been through the long-range process, so there is, therefore, tacit agreement about it."
One alternative to be studied is a plan Commissioner Winton has favored - moving cargo by rail.
"The study is to take a look at alternatives for port access," Mr. Baron said. "It will look at rail, and it will also look at trucks."
Such a system might involve digging a trench or tunnel-like system so cargo, once removed, could be transported by rail or possibly by truck, he said.
The study is designed to come up with cost estimates for such a plan, which might run "significantly more than the port tunnel, since it will be at least double or triple the length," Mr. Baron said.
He said the study would look at potential "intermodal sites," where cargo could be put on and off-loaded, as well as "all the operational impacts and constraints."
"We're trying to look at all the ramifications of a tunnel or a trench with an alternative approach," Mr. Baron said. "Mr. Winton is interested in putting the cargo on a train. There are a number of recognized constraints for that, but there are some merits to it."
But, Mr. Baron added, residents need to be realistic about what any plan can accomplish.
"One of the things our citizens need to understand is that we aren't going to solve all our transportation problems. It's like trying to put 10 tons in a 5-ton bag," he said. "We don't operate our society in a way to enable us to solve congestion. We are in the business of trying to manage it as best we can."