County OKs $10 million payment to transit contractor
By Eric Kalis
Miami-Dade commissioners last week approved paying a consultant $10 million to allow work through the fall on projects related to the county's People's Transportation Plan.
Nine of 10 commissioners at Thursday's meeting voted to release $10 million to construction management firm Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas. The firm is managing the transportation plan and its budget. County officials plan annual expenditures of $126 million to $168 million — up from an original expectation of $72 million to $96 million.
The transit plan, approved by voters in 2002 and funded by a 0.5% sales surtax, involves major improvements to the county's transit lines. The program also entails expansion of the county's bus fleet, repair of traffic signals and roadway and drainage upgrades. The Citizen's Independent Transportation Trust oversees use of the funds from the surtax.
County officials told commissioners the bump in estimated expenditures is a result of unexpected complexities in the design of three Metrorail corridors, an extension of the program to up to 10 years from seven years and the need to acquire more than 114 parcels to complete the project.
The explanation did not satisfy Commissioner Carlos Gimenez. "I understand the answer but do not buy it," Mr. Gimenez said. "If the construction [costs] stayed the same, I still believe the total cost would be about $72 million to $90 million."
Although payment to Parsons Brinckerhoff was included in the original contract in May 2005, only $25 of the $44 million awarded to the firm had been paid. Any expense beyond $25 million requires a majority commission vote.
Commissioner Joe Martinez voted against the $10 million payment.
The payment should allow the consultancy to continue planning through October three major projects outlined in the plan — an Earlington Heights-Miami Intermodal Center corridor that would be connected to Miami International Airport and north and east-west corridors, said Albert Hernandez, the county's deputy director of engineering.
If the $10 million had not been approved, the available "money dries up by middle of this month," Mr. Hernandez said. The commission delayed voting on the increase twice in March.
The consultants "have to finish design criteria, then work on the development of the New Starts" federal grant application, Mr. Hernandez said. "Without money, the project comes to a grinding halt."
Commissioners unanimously denied a second measure that would have released the entire $19 million to the consultants.
Paying the firm "$10 million is something I can support," said Commissioner Barbara Jordan. "I do not want to put the program in a slowdown. The north corridor is more than 20 years coming, and I do not want to slow down because of the bureaucratic process."
Several commissioners said they are concerned that the county is not meeting its Disadvantaged Business Enterprise goal of having 25% minority representation in the consulting team for the duration of the seven-year contract. Parsons Brinckerhoff's minority contractors satisfy 12% of the requirement, county officials say, and outside subcontractors bring the amount to 18%.
That is not enough, said Commissioner Dorrin Rolle. "I do not think the county has done a good job of getting work to" minority contractors, Mr. Rolle said. "This will continue to get scrutiny. We will monitor the contract to make sure these concerns are dealt with."