Tunnel fund decision left off city agenda
By Risa Polansky
In a move that could kill the state's and Miami-Dade County's long-anticipated Port of Miami tunnel, Miami administrators did not place on today's (9/27) commission agenda legislation committing $50 million to the project, closing the only window open to secure funding in time to meet the concessionaire's deadline.
The team hired to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the tunnel has given the governments until Sept. 30 to amass the more than $1 billion for the project. Miami's $50 million has been the missing link.
Without commission approval, the administration's hands are tied, though staffers have for months been crafting ways to put up the money.
City Manager Pete Hernandez, who last week unveiled a plan to pay-as-you-go over about 30 years using Omni Community Redevelopment Agency revenue, has said he planned to pitch each commissioner individually on the merits of the tunnel in hopes of garnering votes for a hearing today, just in time to make the fast-approaching deadline.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said he'd not been briefed, though Commissioner Tomás Regalado said he did meet with city, county and state officials.
Mr. Hernandez was out of town and unable to be reached to explain why the item has been omitted from the agenda.
City Chief Financial Officer Larry Spring, acting city manager, did not return calls.
Though no tunnel-related resolution is formally scheduled for today's meeting, state officials are waiting to see if any discussion occurs before approaching the concessionaire for an extension, said Johnny Martinez, district six secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation.
"If the concessionaire doesn't hold their prices, I think the project is basically dead," he said. "It was very difficult to get them to agree to hold their prices to Sept. 30."
Mr. Regalado said he did not expect the commission to address the issue today. "I doubt very much" commissioners would discuss the tunnel today, though governments "have ways to bring back alive dead issues," he said. "They will figure out something."
Fatal or not, this is not the first city-imposed roadblock in planning for the tunnel.
City administrators have designated the redevelopment agency as the sole source for the $50 million for months, even after commissioners sitting as the agency board voted to deny funds to the tunnel without a guarantee the agency would recoup the money — a virtual impossibility.
Some commissioners have maintained staunch anti-tunnel stances regardless of the source of the funds.
"I'm against the tunnel, period," Joe Sanchez has said.
Mr. Regalado, who led the charge to ban redevelopment dollars from this and other large projects, has said "the city should not participate in this project."
Mr. Sarnoff has supported use of redevelopment money to fund a tunnel because, he said, easing traffic could encourage area development.