Deadline extension request could save port tunnel
By Risa Polansky
A request by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz to extend the expired deadline for the state and county's proposed port tunnel has breathed new life into the wilting project.
The mayor's letter is the city's "first step in the right direction" to give the state confidence in its commitment to the project, said Johnny Martinez, Florida Department of Transportation District Six secretary.
It encouraged the state to ask two concessionaire contenders — both the team selected and the runner up — to hold their prices through December to allow the city administration time to solidify its expected $50 million contribution to the $1 billion project.
"Without that (letter), we wouldn't have even made the first step" to request an extension, Mr. Martinez said.
An ongoing lack of City Commission support and failure on the part of city administrators to place enabling legislation on commission agendas before the Sept. 30 deadline led tunnel proponents to fear the project would die.
After finding last week that the commission would not be asked to vote to support the tunnel in time, Mr. Martinez said "if the concessionaire doesn't hold their prices, I think the project is basically dead."
Mayor Diaz, who did not return calls for comment, wrote that, "due to budget agenda and issues surrounding the state property tax reform, the hearing of an item in support of the Port of Miami tunnel could not be included as part of the City Commission agenda for" Sept. 27.
However, administrators have been deferring the item since June in hopes commissioners, who have resisted funding the tunnel, would come around.
"An agenda item expressing the city's support will be considered by the City Commission by our final meeting of the year" on Dec. 13, Mayor Diaz wrote.
None of the commissioners necessarily argue against a main point of the mayor's letter — that "improving access to the Port of Miami is an increasingly important objective for the City of Miami, especially in our downtown core" — but say they oppose funding the tunnel, largely the state and Miami-Dade County's project.
Miami is not to benefit from any tolls collected from trucks using the tunnel, designed to relieve congestion downtown by diverting port-related traffic through a tunnel system connecting the Port of Miami to Watson Island, enabling traffic to flow onto Interstate 395.
County officials voted in July to contribute $402.5 million to the project, and the state is set to lay down $457 million.
Miami Access Tunnel, the frontrunner selected to design, build, maintain, operate and finance the tunnel is comprised of companies Bouygues Travaux Publics, Babcock & Brown and Transfield Services.
The team has yet to commit to extending its deadline through December.
Runner-up Miami Mobility Group, which is to this week commit to holding its price, is made up of Odebrecht Construction, Dragados USA, ACS Infrastructure Development, Parsons Transportation Group, DMJM & Harris and IRIDIUM Concesiones de Infraestructuras.